I had a fantastic time at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. I was so pleased to be one of their ambassadors! Which, incidentally, fulfilled a childhood dream. I mean, I can now call myself Ambassador Do Rozario, right?
Well, at least I got a badge that said ‘Artist’.
The panels were varied and fascinating. I popped along to as many as I could manage and always came away with new thoughts to ponder. It was particularly thrilling to see a couple of my former students on panels themselves – Tegan Elizabeth Webb talking about zines and other forms of hybrid storytelling, Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones talking about writing trauma. They were both awesome in their undergrad. and Honours years and have only become more awesome now!
I was on a couple of panels myself. I think the most terrifying panel was 5X5 Rules of Writing with some of today’s most amazing authors, Anna Krien, Melina Marchetta, Michelle Law and Inga Simpson. Yes, that includes the author of Looking for Alibrandi! What on earth was I going to say on a panel that included such incredible women? But they were all so lovely that I didn’t feel at all out of place in the end. My 5 pieces of advice? They are largely based on my own experiences as an academic writer, but also as the writer of the odd bit of fiction. It’s actually not so different between genres. Here’s my advice in brief:
- Readers and writers are a community – engage with that community, even if its just online or in some other form. You can learn a great deal from other readers and writers. You can take comfort and encouragement from their experiences.
- Write things to annoy people or to make them laugh. In essence, write to provoke thought. It’s a bit like poking a bear. However, keep in mind that you have to earn the right – don’t take the easy route to baseless, ill-founded aggravation and cheap laughs.
- Write to add to happiness. Show readers how the world can be better.
- Own those rejections. This is where I stole a quote from Michelle Gomez, currently playing Missy in Doctor Who. She discovered that someone called her ‘the roach’:
“And I said: ‘What, like cockroach?’ They said: ‘Yeah, because you’re out there, you get rejected day after day, you get crushed like a bug but you keep coming back. You’re indestructible.’” (link to interview)
Don’t look to a university to teach you to be a writer, or to improve your chances at a book deal – look to a university because you have thoughts about our work as writers and you want to study writing as well as produce it.
That last piece of advice may sound odd coming from someone who works with creative writing students, but I think it’s so important for writers to go to university for the right reasons.
I was also on the beautifully named Once Upon a Time panel with Marisa Pintado and Steven Lochran. You should absolutely check out Steven’s books – there are dinosaurs! I managed to sneak in some references to fairy tale – I may also have managed to disparage the Grimms once more – ooops. I was asked about the mistakes I see students make in writing fantasy. I honestly hadn’t thought that might be a question, but it was such a good question! The truth is, the biggest mistake I see students make is that they write to the tropes of fantasy, rather than tell a story. In particular, characterisation suffers. You may be sending a character on a quest… but why that character? Is it the most interesting character for the quest? Also, think the story through. If characters are walking long distances every day, for instance, do their shoes wear out? What do they do about that? Basically, my advice is that while you can be a little hackneyed in your early drafts, the important thing is to really dig into your story and be conscious of why you’re making the choices you’re making in the telling. Don’t just accept and replicate the tropes – think about them and what they mean for the story you want to tell.
The other question that came up quite often during my ambassadorial duties was about getting over imposter syndrome. Easy answer there. I haven’t gotten over imposter syndrome myself! I’m not sure anyone really does. I’m not sure I altogether trust anyone who says they have. But I think you can own imposter syndrome and make friends with it. You can embrace the doubts you have about your work and allow those doubts to keep you honest. We’re all learning. It’s okay to think you’re crap at things sometimes. Just remember, sometimes you will get it right and that’s a wonderful feeling.
Speaking of which, I’m currently doing final edits for a book chapter on Australian fairy tales and I’m feeling like such an imposter that I decided it would be better to write this blog post. So, I should perhaps embrace my doubts and return to work!
However, if you are an emerging writer, look at going to the 2018 festival! They cover such a wide range of writing – screen writing, food writing, freelance, non-fiction etc. I learned so much about everything from the experience of deaf writers (Ross Onley Zerkel) to the wide range of publishers in Australia and how they take on writers ( Kate Stevens, James Read, Marisa Pintado, Enza Gandolfo). The festival team is also the best – they are incredibly helpful and friendly. I can absolutely attest to that!