As a writer I thrive on the opportunity to spend extended periods of time with others who love words as much as I do. It’s a real treat to occasionally be able to immerse myself in all things writing and be surrounded by others who feel the same.
My recent trip to Melbourne for the National Writers’ Conference was a chance to do just that – and spend some time with two fellow members of my writers’ group, Penny and Leonie. This was a typical girls’ weekend where we talked about the raft of topics women share when together (partners, families, friends, travel, food, pets etc), but we also dissected the sessions we’d attended and shared how they had inspired us to write more, or differently, or explore new genres.
Between us, Penny, Leonie and I have attended many writers’ festivals and enjoyed them, but felt they were lacking in the stuff we really needed to know – insights to the craft of writing itself. Instead of being for avid readers (which we are too), this wasn’t about authors discussing what inspired them to write their latest work and then share their favourite passage. The National Writer’s Conference didn’t skirt around the how-tos and whys of writing, the program asked authors to jump straight in to the nitty gritty and lay their writing process bare.
I tweeted parts of the conference (I’ve collated those tweets on Storify) and I wrote about one of the sessions for HerBusiness, but there are a mountain of tips, advice and insights I picked up that I’d like to share with you.
- “Your voice is what makes your writing beautiful” ~ Adam Liaw
- “Writing isn’t talking; writing is thinking” ~ Alice Pung
- “Be fearless. No good writing ever came from being safe” ~ Omar Musa
- Keep a journal ~ Chandani Lokuge
- Involve your reader intimately by starting in the middle, like they already know the beginning ~ Chandani Lokuge
On the perfect writing conditions:
- There isn’t time to be perfect; you need to know when it’s is good enough to do the job ~ Lorelei Vashti
- If you can get out of your own way, you will start writing and keep going. Once you start you’ll want to finish ~ Dunja Kay
- Imagine yourself standing outside a circus tent and watching the story unfold inside. You are just the transcribe of events, which rids you of the fear that your work isn’t good enough because you’re just transcribing your imagination ~ Susi Fox
On writing dialogue:
- “Train your ear to listen to dialogue from an early age” ~ Hannie Rayson
- “The challenge to writing dialogue is making it seem simple on the surface, but actually revealing complex ideas” ~ Omar Musa
- Listening to other people speak showed me how to tell stories because of the simple language used, simple words and unfinished sentences ~ Rajith Savanadasa
- “There’s always something underneath what people say and knowing that gives you power” ~ Rajith Savanadasa
- “When I’m writing a scene with more than two people I write it over and over again from each point of view” ~ Hannie Rayson
- “Oral stories are told in moments, because we live in moments” ~ Kate Lawrence
- When writing from memory – the more you hang out in it, the more the memory comes to you and you can add colour to it ~ Kate Lawrence
- If we ask people to tell us a story they will tell it chronologically and then you can pick out moments to take them back and get the rich details ~ Andre Dao
On writing about your family:
- “If you’ve ever had an uncle tell you boring stories, you’ll know not all family stories are interesting” ~ Alice Pung
- “I don’t write to tell a compelling story; I write to wrestle with deep emotional truths” ~ Alice Pung
- “There were other stories I could have told about my siblings, but they weren’t my stories to tell” ~ Ruth Clare
- “Your story is unique, not just in the lifetime but in all lifetimes” ~ Courtney Sina Meredith
On the age you start writing and crossing genre:
- “You reach an age when you think about your life, and the people in it, and you want to write it” ~ Sally Abbott
- As a journalist people give you information and you have to pull it all together to make it sound right, but in creative writing you have to make up worlds ~ Sally Abbott
- Think about what is of value to your audience because you need to know who you are writing for. Hunt to find the people who share your quirks ~ Damon Young
- Write your pitch with the same enthusiasm as the article itself; be smart casual in your pitch emails ~ Damon Young
- Understand that sometimes you’re not the person to write the piece ~ Damon Young
- Write authentically; write how you speak ~ Roselina Press
- Outline what makes your idea different to all the other articles on the subject. What different perspective will you bring? ~ Roselina Press
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing?