If you ever get the chance to attend a literary festival, do it! For lovers of writing and reading, a day spent in the midst of books, writers and fellow book lovers is a bit like finding heaven on earth.
This year, I set aside a full Friday for the Sydney Writers’ Festival – and was rewarded with a wonderful day of inspirational and thought provoking author talks.
While the writers were incredibly diverse, both in genre and personality, a number of key ideas and thoughts seemed to connect them all. Here’s what I took away:
1) You will never feel 100% confident about your work
Australian author, Malcolm Knox has 30 fiction and non-fiction books on his CV. Yet, he describes moments of confidence as ‘islands’ between oceans of insecurity. ‘It’s never gone away. It pursues me everywhere, that self-doubt.’
2) Writing is hard, hard work
Author of the global best-seller The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion thinks nothing of sitting at his desk for 12 hours of solid writing. Every time he opens his lap-top, he doesn’t close it until he has made an improvement to his manuscript. ‘If you want to be good at something, you have to put the hours in.There is stuff to learn. Expect to put in the same amount of work to be a writer as you would to be a neurosurgeon.’
3) Write and read beyond your genre and mode
Author and psychiatrist, Anne Buist reads for two hours a night and rips through 200 books in a year.
Lynn Coady had a successful career in Canada as a literary author before she dived into the world of TV screenwriting.
At 58, Michael Connelly was one of the world’s most successful crime writers before he turned his hand to screenwriting, a move he said he wished he’d made 20 years earlier.
The point is – just because you write literary fiction, it doesn’t mean you have to write and read literary fiction for the rest of your life.
Be open. Be adventurous.
4) Reach out
Almost every writer spoke positively about the experience of working with other writers, or, at the very least, bouncing ideas off other writers.
Graeme Simsion still belongs to two writing groups.
Lynn Coady’s advice was simple. ‘Don’t be afraid.’
But Sascha Arango (one of Germany’s most prominent screenwriters) has a different spin. He says, ‘Be afraid but make it work. Use it. Tell people I am afraid to fail. Make it an experience for them.’
5) Say ‘yes’
This means different things to different writers.
For a prolific author like Malcolm Knox, it literally means saying ‘yes’ to every writing opportunity he’s been offered – non-fiction and fiction. ‘I’d be too insecure if I had all my eggs in one basket.’
For Graeme Simsion, saying ‘yes’ means putting your work out there in the public domain. Start by submitting short stories for publication. ‘Short stories are terrific for playing with voice.’
For Anne Buist, it meant putting the time aside from her busy career in psychiatry to sit down and write fiction. ‘I feared getting to 80 and never having tried.’
She said ‘yes’ to writing.
I hope you do too.