Christmas has come again and that means many new books under the tree! With some of the biggest authors hitting the shelves at Christmas, there’s always something you’ve been waiting to read. And as writers, reading is paramount to improve our craft. If we didn’t love to read, we wouldn’t desire to write. But reading can only take us so far. So, if you’re looking to improve your writing and advance your career in 2019, perhaps this Christmas you should treat yourself to something more. And there is no better place to find motivation than to attend an event about writing.
Engaging in the writing world is the best gift I’ve given myself and my writing. Without attending festivals, workshops, and conferences, I would never have reached this point in my writing career, with an award-winning manuscript hopefully on the verge of publication. There is only so much you can learn on your own, self-motivation only takes you so far, and networking is key to success in this business. Therefore, if there was one thing I’d recommend to all young writers, after urging you to keep writing no matter what, it is to find your place in the writing world and soak up all the knowledge possible.
Why do I recommend this? Like you, I have been writing since I was young. While completing grade nine, I wrote two full-length novels. By the age of twenty-five, that number had increased to twenty-two. I had honed the discipline of producing novels and knew writing filled my heart. But none of this mattered if I didn’t know how books should be structured, the key elements to writing a novel, or how the publishing industry actually works. And these are the most important things I’ve learned since embracing the world of writing.
For me, this started during high school by attending the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival in Mackay. This is the largest festival outside south east Queensland and has hosted many incredible Australian authors. There, I met and learned from the incredible Andy Griffiths, Paul Jennings, Melina Marchetta, Li Cunxin, and many more. Every year I found more motivation to write, felt inspired in my chosen career path of becoming an author, and learned more about books in the process. But it was the first author talk I attended at this festival that has stuck with me to this day.
I was halfway through grade nine and my very first manuscript when I signed up to attend Whitsunday Voices. My friend was a more avid reader than I and knew more about the authors in attendance, so I chose author talks purely on her recommendations. I signed up for a talk by a man who wrote action/thriller novels for adults, which was as far from anything I read, and he was currently on tour for his young adult book about racing. So there I was, sitting in a massive crowd waiting to hear Matthew Reilly speak. And that hour remains the most inspirational hour of my life, leaving me with Matthew’s words I still live by today – “What you know may not be what you’ve experienced.”
As young writers, we may be subject to being told to write what we know or, worse, that we don’t have the experience to write a novel. But I urge you to ignore this. Authors rarely have experienced what they write about as if that were the case, we’d all have very little material to work with. This was the first lesson I learned, that with an imagination and a rational mind, writers can write anything onto to paper and make readers believe. It’s our job.
Matthew Reilly’s words at Whitsunday Voices in 2005 have kept me writing about anything I want for thirteen years. All you need to do is rationalise, research, and dig into your heart to know what you’re writing about. And with this knowledge, I continued writing and attending Whitsunday Voices.
Find Motivation at a Festival
Writing, literature, and book festivals are abundant around the country and are incredibly motivating events for young and aspiring writers. Whitsunday Voices is the highlight of Mackay’s literary society. And while the Brisbane Writers Festival is an event you’ve likely all heard of, the Sunshine Coast, Capricorn Coast, Cairns, and the Burdekin all hold regular festivals as well.
Moving away from Mackay and losing Whitsunday Voices was difficult for me, but I kept writing. I had seven manuscripts from my high school days, four of which I continued to work on. Soon, I had twenty manuscripts and was submitting to publishers. But my continued rejections were proof I still didn’t know enough. There was one vital aspect missing from my process of becoming a writer. I didn’t know enough about the craft.
Learn at Workshops
Two years ago, I found the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and, from there, my world of writing. I was a member of Queensland Writers Centre and Romance Writers of Australia, but I wasn’t utilising the opportunities they provided – workshops and competitions.
This year, treat yourself to one of the many amazing workshops that the QWC provides. Local libraries also host workshops from local or visiting authors. In Townsville, there are multiple workshops offered by the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and QWC provides workshops at the libraries. No matter what you write, there is something new to be learned at a workshop. Narrative structure is vital to understand, character development mustn’t be overlooked, and above all, you need to know the key aspects of your genre. Workshops are there to provide this knowledge. And if you don’t have access to these live events, webinars and online learning are also provided through Australia’s top writing organisations.
Receive Feedback with Competitions
Entering my work into competitions changed my writing career. Utilising my membership with Romance Writers of Australia, I entered two novels into the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. Through this process, I learned more than I ever had about writing. I’d never heard of the term ‘head-hopping’ while sitting in my isolated writing world. But I had learned invaluable lessons through this critique, causing me to rewrite every viable manuscript.
Not all competitions provide feedback, but I would recommend entering those that do. Short story competitions are also a great way to receive feedback and get your work seen and maybe published in anthologies. Scarlett Stiletto is a great anthology competition for female crime writers and with a quick Google search you’ll find many more. But don’t forget the big contests, such as QWC’s Manuscript Development program with Hachette, The Emerging Writers Festival’s Richell Prize, or prizes provided by publishing houses like The Banjo and the Penguin Literary Prize.
Network at Conference
After the invaluable feedback from the Emerald judges, I fully invested in my career and spoiled myself. I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference. This is one of Australia’s largest writing conferences and if you’re looking to treat yourself, this conference presents some of the best opportunities you’ll find. And you don’t need to write romance as there’s plenty to learn about fiction and writing in general. At my first conference, I learned more about writing and publishing than I’d ever known. Amazing writers like Marion Lennox and Kate Forsyth gave inspirational speeches and I met so many writers it was almost overwhelming.
2019 also holds much excitement with the return of GenreCon, a conference not to be missed. Held in Brisbane, GenreCon is an event for writers to network and learn from the best in genre fiction. Personally, I cannot wait for this event and feel it’s one not to be missed with the workshops, panels, and pitching opportunities available.
The Value of a Manuscript Assessment
The best opportunity I’ve ever taken was submitting the one book I felt had true potential for a manuscript assessment. I knew there was something wrong with this novel and had an idea of how to fix it, but receiving feedback from an agent who knew books and about the publishing industry has been the greatest experience of my writing career. Taking on board critique from this assessment, I replotted the novel. From August to November, I completely rewrote the manuscript. With all I’d learned at conference, I continued my edits. In December, I submitted this to RWA’s Emerald Award.
This manuscript assessment was the best money I’ve ever spent as without it, I’d never have won the 2018 Emerald Award.
Manuscript assessments aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every cent you pay an agent or publisher to read your work and provide feedback. If you have a novel you believe has potential, consider submitting it for assessment. You can find avenues for this through QWC, the Australian Writers Marketplace, and individual literary agencies.
Pitch Your Story
Pitching is the best way to get your work in front of a publisher and isn’t as daunting as you might think. Publishers are there because they’re seeking new books and want to hear about your story.
Pitching is one of the most popular aspects of the RWA conference. The Australian Society of Authors also host pitching sessions, sometimes which you can do online or over the phone. Pitching sessions are also available at GenreCon. If you have a publishable manuscript, then treat yourself to a pitching session this Christmas.
Escape on Retreat
Going away with authors to learn and work on your book is an amazing opportunity. In Townsville, we host an annual writing retreat and there are also retreats held by authors, such as Natasha Lester in Western Australia and Alli Sinclair with Writers at Sea (retreat on a cruise ship!).
This is the gift I’ve given myself in 2019 – The Rainforest Writing Retreat on the Gold Coast Hinterland. Not only is the retreat location idyllic, the writing masterclasses are of amazing quality. If you haven’t looked into this retreat, I suggest you do. It comes at a very affordable price.
Critique is Your Friend
If you cannot afford to treat yourself to an event this Christmas, give yourself this gift: welcome critique. Critique is your friend. If you cannot receive critique objectively, you’ll never improve as a writer. There is always the risk critique will hurt, but sometimes this is for the best. As writers, we are very close to our work. But the ability to detach yourself is one you’ll be forever thankful for. This enables you to make cuts, edits, and improve your manuscript to a publishable standard. Learning to detach my heart and change parts of my manuscript I loved for the better has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I urge you to do the same. The writing world is no place for an overinflated ego.
The Write Gift for You
A competition, retreat, or festival is not something you can wrap up and put under the tree, so we still need those books. After all, reading will always continue to make us better writers. But do remember, reading can only take a writer so far. Therefore, spoil yourself this Christmas and invest in your writing career. As young writers, we’re lucky for the many opportunities out there. Don’t hold back! Treat yourself in 2019. Find an event that suits your needs and the genre you write. No matter what, you will find new ways to improve your writing. I know my indulgence in the writing world has certainly improved mine. I’ve made new friends, met amazing authors, and am finally confident that I can produce publishable novels. It certainly beats remaining in the isolated world that writing can become.