If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ll know that I recently went to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. (I wrote about it here, here and here.) So it probably comes as no surprise that I think Festivals like these are a great investment for writers of all levels: from the beginner who has just decided they’d like to find out how to put a creative pen to paper for the first time through to the seasoned professional with a couple of books under their belt, and everyone in between.
So, with no ado whatsoever, I give you my top five reasons to attend.
1. I’m an Individual, Just Like You and You and You
Writers, and artists in general, aren’t like everyone else. We’ve often grown up being told we’re dreamers, or we’ve got our heads in the clouds, or we need to start living in the real world. We think differently. We look at the world differently.We overhear a conversation on the bus about two girls visiting their sick grandfather and our first thought isn’t “Oh, how sad…” it’s “I wonder which one of them is poisoning him for his money. Maybe she’s not even his real granddaughter. Maybe she’s a fairy or a shape-shifter or a demon and she’s taken the form of his granddaughter because he owns an old building that was built on top of a portal to another world and— damn it, where’s my notebook?”
Writing can feel very isolating. Not just physically (although being trapped in a room with a recalcitrant WIP is an exhausting prospect), but also mentally. It’s very easy to start to feel like we’re all alone in our difference. Self-doubt creeps on to our shoulders and whispers its heady sweet nothings in our ear: “You’ll never be a real writer. Your writing sucks. No one likes you. And your clothes are at least ten years out of date.”
And then you go to a writing event, and suddenly you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who go through all the same stuff that you do. Every day. It feels exciting and heady and like you’ve finally found a place where you can be yourself and say the weird things in your head out loud and everyone accepts everyone else. Because they’re just as odd as you are. And some of their clothes are at least twenty years out of date. Because who cares about clothes when you can sit down over a selection of food and drink and talk about the real issues. Like: Is the sick grandfather really as helpless as he appears?
2. It’s Dark and We’re Wearing Sunglasses
If you’ve got a day job (or small children) in addition to your writing, it’s almost guaranteed that your writing comes second on a daily basis. If writing is your day job, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re so busy churning out the words, you don’t have a lot of time to sit back and think about the hows and the whys and the wherefores of what you’re doing on a daily basis. But sometimes, that’s what you really need.
When you’re at a festival, you have the opportunity to put on your blinkers, lower the shades, and concentrate one hundred percent on the art, craft and business of writing. You don’t have to keep stopping and starting so you can prepare meals. You don’t need to limit yourself to an hour a day so you can maintain a relationship. You don’t have to focus on your daily word count or your deadline. You have permission to sit back, take a deep breath, and fully immerse yourself in the joy of writing. And isn’t that worth the price of admission alone?
3. Old News in a New Way
I’m going to be honest — I rarely learn anything entirely new at the BWF. That’s probably true for most people once they reach a certain level of understanding and knowledge of the craft. I’ve read enough “how to write” books and blogs to know the terminology and the current trends. I’ve read enough fiction to understand the way narrative flows, and what does and doesn’t work. I’ve written enough stories to recognise my own writing style and be comfortable in expressing my thoughts with squiggles on a page. I don’t go looking for brand new information — I go looking for old information expressed in a new way.
An example of that would be my sudden epiphany about Inciting Incidents last week. I’ve read about Inciting Incidents over and over and over (and, possibly, over). The fact that you need one as close to the beginning of a story as possible is not new. But hearing the same information delivered by a new person, in a new environment, with different words, at the right time… BANG! Instant epiphany about my WIP.
And until you get there, you don’t know what old news is going to hit you in a new way and totally change the way you think about your writing.
4. Answer Me These Questions Three
In one of my posts about the recent Festival, I said:
Even if I did type out all 3000 words (roughly) of my notes, it still wouldn’t be” everything”. If it worked that way, we’d all just buy the book of the workshop rather than attend workshops at all. It’s as much the interaction between the participants and the teacher that makes a workshop great as it is the information presented.
One of the things you don’t get when you’re reading a book or blog about the craft of writing, is the chance to ask questions. Not just the “what does that mean” type questions (which, let’s face it, you can probably ask Google) but the “how does this apply to me” type questions. In a class or workshop, you can ask questions. You can ask about using modern slang in YA (try to avoid it), or about changing from past to present tense in the middle of the book (make sure there’s a good reason), or about how much bad language is too much (depends on your genre/market). You can ask for clarification or examples. You can interact — not just with the presenter, but also with the other participants. And you’d be amazed what you can learn.
5. It’s Not What You Know…
We all know the old quip. And we also all know that there’s a certain amount of truth in it. A writing festival, convention, conference, etc is a great place to connect with people at your own level as well as meet people more advanced in their careers. Plus, of course, there are plenty of stories of people meeting their agents, publishers, editors, etc at writing events. So take your business cards, talk to the people sitting next to you if you’re too shy to approach random strangers, and give yourself the opportunity to meet like-minded people.
Have you been to a Writing Event? Did you enjoy it? What reasons did I miss?