What do you get if you put 400 writers, agents, editors and creative writing teachers together? Lots of talk, lots of notebooks, lots of focused people. This was my experience of the Festival of Writing at York University this September.
What can a festival of writing give to a writer? I don’t mean a literature festival, but a writing festival? The Writers’ Workshop, who organised the Festival of Writing 2016 in York in September say they aimed to do three things given that writing is hard and solitary.
- help improve your writing
- help you meet the industry
- give you an amazing time
I went along mostly to finds ways to improve my writing, but it was also interesting and useful to meet others engaged in the business of book production and of writing fiction.
What did I learn?
I learned a great deal more about the publishing industry, how the fiction landscape is changing as ebooks and self-publishing have grown. It can sometimes feel that the industry is in opposition to the writer, but of course agents and publishers need good writers, and we heard about plenty of good relationship. Most writers, I suspect, still feel we are somehow on the outside, looking for the magic formula that will allow us entry. Or if not some magic, some helpful guidance and tools that give us the chance of entry.
With a strapline from here to publication, the event went some way to demystifying a process which otherwise can seem like the quest of romantic medieval fiction: an epic journey with riddles and tests, ensnarements, false directions and yet no promise of attaining the goal.
Experiment, Learn, Bounce!
Experiment, Learn, Bounce! was CL Taylor’s message to us and it has merit. She described her very successful career as a fiction writer and extracted these points for us.
- Experiment and be bold within and across different genres.
- Learn from it all, learn from feedback, critiques, how-to books and from other published books.
- And don’t give up, bounce back from rejection, you would miss out if you crumpled.
More than once writers were congratulated on completing the first draft of their novel, not many people in the world have done it. Perhaps they people know something that we don’t?
And perhaps we should be adding Celebrate! to CL Taylor’s imperatives. Celebrate every achievement, because writing is so hard.
There were 40 workshops on offer; everything from ‘First 100 Word Challenge’ to ‘How to Attract an Agent’. My own choices reflected my intentions to improve the first draft of my novel. I went to workshops that focused on specific aspects of the craft of fiction. All six workshops were interesting and useful, and I brought away some ideas and notes for action. Some were better learning experiences than others. It seems a misnomer to refer to a one-hour monologue as a workshop, for example.
The Writers’ Workshop is able to call upon some very experienced people in the business of helping people improve their writing. It seemed that most people attending the workshop were stimulated and challenged by their workshop experiences.
I made a major mistake by not preparing well enough for this conference – distracted by the publication of The New Age of Ageing and other activities. I missed the information about booking one-to-one sessions and sending in my work-in-progress for feedback from an agent and an editor. Silly me! For many people present this was a really important part of attending. I know this because they were slack-jawed if I admitted that I had missed out.
Some specific things
Did you know that there is a genre called Reading Group Fiction? New to me.
It seems that post-it notes and coloured pens might be the best aid to rewriting for some of us. This does not just apply to the stationery junkies amongst us. As they are small, cheap and moveable, everything a first draft is not, post-its are a good way of visualising aspects of the novel, such as plot threads, and being able to see where rewrites are needed. Thanks Julie Cohen for the workshop on that: we did some post-it activities.
I enjoyed the generosity of the publishing community and the wannabe published writers. People were friendly, exchanged contact details, recommended books, noted successes, and bought each other drinks. Back in my writing attic I am aware of how hard it is for writers in their everyday lives to maintain the sense of community.
Half way through the weekend I lost my confidence and it all became a bit of a nightmare. I was confronted, like the hill walker who reaches the brow of the hill only to find there another one beyond, the further you go the more you can see there is to do. The consequence of knowing more about what needs revision is understanding there is more and more to do than I ever imagined. I am not convinced I can do it. I find that Neil Gaiman has expressed this rather more succinctly: ‘chasing the horizon’.
Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
[From the workshop Writing Tips: Rules are made to be broken by Laura Williams.]
I am hoping that this nightmare of lost confidence will soon pass, and that the practical suggestions together with the understanding I gained about different aspects of the writer’s craft, will help me through.
But here’s another useful piece of advice from Carl Sandburg which can apply to life as well as writing:
Beware of advice – even this.
Related posts and websites
During the weekend I tweeted the connection to a post I wrote in July, the 7th in a series on revising my novel. It was called Revising the novel again (and again). A few people read the post, one saying she was glad to find she was not alone.
Here’s the link to the website of The Writers’ Workshop, organisers of the Festival.
This is the 8th in the series on revising my novel, following an on-line course back in 2015, also run by The Writers’ Workshop. Previous posts were:
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