Writing is inherently a solitary activity. So, when the Sydney Writing Festival pulls 50,000 attendees, the shock for those that value their personal space is real.
However, with international and local big-name guests, and some great locations, there are plenty of reasons to brave the crowds. In fact just in 2017 there are celebrations on the Sunshine Coast, in the Northern Territory, Broome, Sydney, Perth, and many more locations. With a variety of genres represented as well, there are options to suit all writers. For those who really want to avoid crowds, there is even the Digital Writers Festival (an extension of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival).
In fact, in Australia, we are lucky enough to have a plethora of festivals that cater to all writers. So whether attending the speculative fiction’s Conflux in Canberra, or the Literary Youth Festival in Perth, there are plenty of benefits that make getting to a writing festival a must for writers.
Networking is a key part of almost any business. Writing is no different, particularly if you’re aiming for a traditional route to getting published. Sometimes being ‘that’ writer the publisher met at a festival may be enough to stand out from thousands of submissions received by publishers. Kevin L Nieson tells a great story about meeting a publisher purely because liked his purple shirt. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to spark a conversation, and he now has a successful business. He even has four more projects on the go, giving him longevity on the field. Sometimes putting a face to a name is enough to set you apart from the rest.
One of the perils of writing alone, or in the same group, is the repetition of styles and mistakes. Without someone else’s perspective, these won’t change and can be lethal to a writer’s success. Workshops not only give a massive amount of information and advice in a short amount of time, they give writers access to experts in that specific field. Whether it’s discovering that you are the only person that likes prologues, and yours is putting interest from publishers at risk, or simply realising that your dialogue doesn’t vary between characters, workshops fit a high volume of information into a short amount of time, and get you that expert advice you may not have even realised you needed. The result though is a more rounded, educated, and overall publishable author.
The Really Nice And Friendly Professionals
At my first writing convention, I had a coffee with Isobelle Carmody. Not an organised event, just at the bar getting a coffee. She was nice enough to listen to my sleep deprived drivel and gave me a few tips on my writing. The advice she gave me was instrumental in changing how I looked at my craft and motivated me to keep writing at a time when it was looking futile and overwhelming.
Plenty of other writers will have similar stories of meeting people who have succeeded with their craft, and whether meeting them in a hallway, book launch, or asking a question at a panel, most are not in the business of keeping secrets. It will vary between genres and individuals, but most authors want other writers to succeed. If you have the chance to talk to them in person, it can be a very rewarding experience.
The Opportunities To Volunteer
Many festivals and conventions run off the back of volunteers. They are critical to the smooth running of some, and for other, whether they run at all. This is a great way to give back to the writing community, but also builds a great reputation. For writers, whose name and reputation is their brand, this is priceless. People remember those that help out, and getting free access to the greenroom? Priceless!
Tracking people down in hallways might not be your thing though. In this case, there are other ways to get your questions answered. Panels allow you to ask the questions of the professionals, the people who are industry experts. Even if you don’t know what questions to ask, others will ask questions relevant to you. It’s not just about writing either. The answers regarding queries, synopsis writing, the pros and cons of indie and traditional, balancing writing with supporting job- all of these will likely come up at some point. The professional side of writing can be confusing without guidance, and the panels are where you can get it.
The best part about panels though is a balanced view. Brandan Sanderson often tells a story about a panel, in which he answered a question with what he thought was a common opinion. The other panel members spent the next hour telling him exactly how wrong he was! The beauty of this though is that it was five authors with five different views. Writing is not a science. It is an art, and everyone will have their own style. Panels give you the ability to find the advice that suits your style and use it to full effect.
No, this isn’t a typo. Festivals are great for networking, but even if it’s your first convention, and all you want to do is sit at the back and not ask any questions of approach anyone, look at it this way; you are surrounded by people who love to write! Even ignoring the benefits to your craft, festivals are a great way to connect with like minded individuals. The guests, agents, experts and publishers are great, but even if you only meet once a year, or pass the occasional email, the writing community is full of people who will encourage and foster your learning. Writers are spread across the country, and in some cases the globe, but once you join that ever-expanding community of writers, while you may write in solitude, but you will always have the support and encouragement of the those involved in the craft.
To start looking for writers festivals in your areas, your state’s writing centre can be a great help, as can the federal government’s page (http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/writers-festivals). For a complete list of Australian writing festivals though, Jason Nahrung puts out a list every year at https://jasonnahrung.com/2017-australian-literary-festival-calendar/ that has links to over 150 celebrations of writing.