Tips for new writers from Emerging Writers Festival Authors

I attended my first Emerging Writers Festival event last weekend, and it was called the National Writer’s Conference. It ran both Saturday and Sunday, with two panel streams, along with a third meet-the-author style room.

I am a veteran of the literary SF conferences, such as the Australian Natcon, Worldcon and our local convention Continuum, so I had a few preconceived notions on how this event would be held. I don’t like to speak ill of the organisers but I was disappointed with a few of the panels. I found the panelists inarticulate and what was most disappointing was that they read their presentations out aloud. I am carefully not mentioning names because I know how scary speaking in public can be, but if you are signing yourself up for one of these panels all I can ask is that you know your product.

Admittedly, this being an Emerging Writer’s festival, most if not all the panelists have only one book published, but I am sure most of the audience would be grateful to learn the processes involved, not listen to an extended ad on their book that they are pushing.

Another gripe, and yes, I am griping, is that of all the guests, the only one I had heard of was Hannah Kent. Surely there are many more Australian Authors who only have one book published who could have been part of this event?

I felt the added pressure from my writing class that I had to bring back notes taken at the event with some interesting information, but I can say with certainty, that besides the first panel, which I scribbled furiously all the way through, there wasn’t much to bring back with me from any of the other panels. One became an outright political rant against the white privileged, while another the panelists stared at each other in dumb bemusement when asked a reasonably simple question.

I think I shall stick to my usual conferences which concentrate on the genre fiction I love and write and give these literary events the flick.

Having said all that, there was some good advice at the first panel, which I will try to distill down here:

The 5 x 5 Rules of Writing – tips from 5 authors and what they wish they had known.

Maxine Beneba Clarke says:
1 – Write what you know to be true. Find some way of accessing the story you want to write.
2- Use your failures. There are short truths everywhere. Use what you’re doing in everyday life.
3- Throw your hat in the ring. Submit, submit, submit.
4- Stay in the sweet spot. Trusting that when you feel you’ve written something good, stick with it.
5- Attend festivals. Belong to a community.

Felix Nobis says:

1- Publishing doesn’t just happen with the written word. It’s important to be mindful of the publishing possibilities but keep in mind the right form of publishing.
2- Every writer will be their own manager. Find out what prizes are going on, what grants are available.
3- A grant application is never the place to demonstrate creative writing.
4- Know what you are asking when you ask someone to read your work. Be clear to them what you are hoping their feedback to encompass. Respect the opinions you get.
5- Be aware of how you write best and then make time for that. Make time for it and do it as a job.

Krissy Kreen says:
1- Your novel will fall apart around about 20,000 words. Around the first act turning point. All stories are dogs. Don’t worry, write a bad first draft, it’s easier to work on improving a bad first draft than improving nothing written at all.
2- Be careful what you read. Books can feed our souls but they can also suck you dry
3- Writers must develop a split personality. 1 part is the creative brain, 1 part is the realist. Know the reality. Writing is tapping into the subconcious.
4- Be nice to strangers for they might be angels in disguise. Basically, you never know who you might be offending with your rude behaviour, especially at these conference events. Also, buy all your friends books if you expect them to buy yours.
5- Step away from Goodreads!!! If you are influenced by illiterate teenagers then you probably are too sensitive to be a writer.

Benjamin Law (Non-fiction/journalist) says:
All writing is vomiting and then cleaning it up. (Not a rule, just an observation)
1- Break your writing down into goals. Do this so you aren’t intimidated by the scope of your project.
2- Never be without ideas. Ideas are currency. Never wait for an Editor to reply. Send 7 ideas not 1. Record drunken conversations – sometimes real gems of ideas turn up. Join a book club – getting other peoples ideas about a book can turn up questions. Carry a notebook.
3- Exercise. There is a strong correspondence between exercising our body and our brain.
4- Get an accountant. Preferably one that specialises in the arts.
5- Choose your projects wisely. Keep moving forward. If a project doesn’t have two out of three of the following qualities, reject it. Fun, Interesting, Paid.

Hannah Kent says:
1- Read. To be a good writer you must be a good reader.
2- Cultivate empathy. The ability to understand and share the lives and feelings of others is essential in a good writer.
3- Work hard. Raw talent doesn’t count for much without hard work. Learn to write when you’re uninspired. Forget your ego – develop your skills. Be diligent, industrious and persistent.
4- Don’t wait until you feel ready. Start now. Be patient with yourself. You’ll become accustomed to the doubt. Brace yourself the the hard slog.
5- Write from the soul. Write from the deepest place of yourself. Write about something that means something to you.

Well, there you have it. Some wisdom from some of the new up and comers in the Australian literary field. Obviously this was an hour long panel and these tips are from hastily scribbled notes, but I think you will get their drift. It is not new advice, it is something I see written on most writers’ websites and in interviews. But obviously the message, being the same, means that it is something that should be practiced. I say do what feels right and pick and choose those rules you want and those you don’t feel are right for you can be discarded. Writing is an art as well as a craft, and while you are feeling comfortable with what you are doing, feel free to ignore everybody. If you are like me and crave all the advice you can get, then feel free to follow everything written here.

I am off to Continuum X this weekend, where I fully expect to fill my notebooks with interesting advice from experienced authors.