On Saturday 30th June 2018 I joined the throng at a one-day writing festival in Balmain.
Jacqueline Harvey and Kris at the Festival.
We started with a long queue for beverages on the front verandah. I have to say the catering was great, just a pity that everyone tended to have the same idea at the same time. If you wanted to see everything on offer during the day you just had to accept the rush for seating and the queueing for food.
The two sessions I got the most out of (I wrote notes that I could decipher later) were The Business of Writing and Fantastical Worlds sessions. There was a bit of overlap of content and my impressions are a bit fuzzy about which of the following ideas came from which session.
The best thing I took from these sessions was how the big names in writing are still just people who struggle, every day, to make progress. They still meet brick walls, and feel rejected and depressed… but have managed to keep going, mostly because they see writing as a profession which will involve challenges and frustrations, and boring bits.
Kate Forsyth was a journalist, but after signing her first book deal she had to get wised up about Contracts and Rights very, very, quickly. Her advice was; a professional must make it their business to learn the business side of writing; and getting a good agent is essential. (BTW her sister, Belinda Murrell organised the event).
Garth Nix had the advantage of being an editor, then a literary agent, before writing full time. He has discovered that successful writers were often book sellers at some time. It has the benefit of showing you what sells in the current market, (As against what you read/loved when you were a child)
So if you can’t sell books then haunt bookshops and libraries.
Louise Park was a publisher, and is an education consultant.
Alison Tait was a journalist and now is a freelance writer and blogger and partner in AWC-the Australia Writers Centre.
James Bradley is an ex-lawyer, editor, award winning literary critic.
Jaclyn Moriarty was an entertainment/media lawyer, has 2 sisters and an ex-husband who are writers.
So being very bright… and giving your whole life to writing seems to be a good idea.
In the Fantastical Worlds session:
The panel talked about their respective writing routines. The gist of it was: develop a routine – one that works for you. Some other person’s set of rules won’t necessarily work for you.
JM: talked about her blue bowl which she keeps close at hand and well stocked with fruit and chocolate. It is now so important in her mind as a symbol of her writing process that she began to worry about breaking it. So she jumped on a weird happenstance and bought 6 more. Just in case.
So if you have a routine that works, fight to preserve it.
In Question Time I asked the panel, What thing have you learned about the creative process that didn’t work for you… that turned out to be a dead end? I’ve paraphrased their answers below, short hand not being one of my skills.
JB: Don’t always stop to fix a problem when you are ‘in the zone’, come back for it later. He did add that you need to use judgement here. You might write-in a problem that will later take lots of work to write-out.
JM: Allow fallow time; time to ruminate while doing something else. Constantly writing to a deadline can mean you are writing in panic.
And we all know, panic makes you stupid.
KF: Just keep going. The only real failure is to stop writing. Everything else is a learning point on the journey.
The best idea regarding fantasy and magic came from Garth Nix: Magic must have a cost. If magic comes too easily then all the problems can be resolved with more magic.
The last sessions for the day gave a choice of watching people deliver a pitch for their manuscript a) Kids and Young adults, or b) Picture Books. Contributions from nervous authors were drawn from a box at random. The authors delivered a pitch, then received judgement. The Picture Book Pitch Session was a great lesson for me. I went from really, really, wanting the chance to pitch – to really, really, not wanting the chance to pitch as I realised from the panel’s comments that I had big gaps in my approach. But it was definitely not a waste of energy. If you haven’t committed yourself to paper it is so easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to say to yourself …’Well of course I would have done that!’ The session started with an author reading a winning pitch from a previous year and her book had gone on to publication. (Sorry can’t remember the title of the book.) This sample pitch was most notable for covering all the dot points Belinda Murrell noted in her advice on Pitching on her website before the festival. No small accomplishment when you are given a limit of 1 minute/100 words.
In their feedback the editorial panel advised that it is a good idea to give an idea of the language of the text since that is what will sell it. Some people began reading a small excerpt from their text in response to that advice and their work suddenly became much clearer. The panel was very supportive of the good things in the pitches and occasionally pointed out what needed adding or refocusing. They were honest but not brutal, so don’t be nervous about having a go yourself. See it as a ‘writer in training’ experience.
The only time editors/publishers were scathing about writers was when they recounted incidents where colleagues were stalked in their private lives.
So don’t push your manuscript under the toilet door. And don’t push your manuscript into someone’s hands at a funeral.
Be professional. Publishing in Australia is a small world.