On Friday the 8th of November, the University of Wollongong held its first ever Writers Festival, focusing on the emerging writer. The day-long festival offered four discussions: Starting and Running a Publication, Spreading Art in Innovative Ways, Forging a Digital Presence and Getting Published. The student-run event, organised by Chloe Higgins (with special mentions to Kate Liston and Lorin Reid), sought to inspire and inform aspiring writers on how to get their name out there, and how to break into the industry using a digital presence and innovative methods.
Each panel encouraged audience participation, answering questions on everything from a writer's expectations and the editing process, to managing a publication and becoming unionised. I found it comforting to be once again, in the presence of a group of writers, all up against the same challenges and questioning the same ways of thinking.
We spoke of finding the balance between wanting exposure for our work, and working for free/being exploited, sharing experiences, cynicism and a touch of hope. Raising the expectations of writers, as well as the expectations of writing itself was another issue discussed in depth. It seemed that the subject of "art for free" hit a nerve for a lot of us. The idea that "at some point, all artists are expected to work for free" and "it's part of the industry" were hotly debated as the notion of the "value of art" was put forward. "There will always be someone who will work for free," one panelist said, "and this can devalue what the rest of us are doing."
"So are you morally against art for free?" a member of the audience then questioned. We passionately discussed how art sometimes mirrors society - artists are often like the first and third world countries of the world: there are those who make it big and prosper, while there are those who are struggling to break through. Though, some of the panelists and I personally, were of the opinion that the digitalisation of art and the options that the online world offers, has started to bridge this gap. There are authors all over the world who have self-published online and are now making a living from their art, which in the past, would not have happened. Lorin Reid, the founder of the Enough Said poetry slam group said:
We need to lower the elitist wall between print and other mediums of publication..."
This was particularly relevant as, as we discovered, so many publications in today's world begin online. With low start-up costs and such easy access to relevant communities, it's no wonder why the likes of Lovage Magazine and Bullsh!t (both panelists at the festival) started off as an online presence, with Lovage Magazine recently releasing their first print issue after establishing a solid online following.
On getting published, panelist Patrick Lenton, Editor at The Sturgeon General advised: "Engage with the journal: read it, reference the last issue in your submission - they want to know that you're interested in their publication…" Other advice included looking up the editor, in order to address them personally in your submission, reading your work out loud before submitting, and ensuring that your work is adequately edited before you send it out.
Over the course of the day, we heard from the following panelists: Callum O'Donnell (recently published author - you can read our interview with him here), Patrick Lenton (editor/writer), Holly Buck (editor/writer), Lorin Reid (founder of Enough Said & spoken word poet), Joshua Mei-Ling Dubrau (academic writing), Lovage Magazine, Red Room, Adam Carr (writer), Mascara Literary Review, Papergirl Wollongong, Joel Ephraims, Bullsh!t, Tara Goedjen and Audra De La Torre.
UOW's first writers festival was certainly a success, providing the attending up-and-coming writers with advice, insight into the industry and a place for in depth discussion. What I personally took away from the day was a re-connection to the writing world; stepping out from behind my desk, engaging in the debates and hearing the success stories of other like-minded writers. Mostly, I enjoyed how the panelists seemed to give the power back to the writers: "Ultimately it's up to the writer to accept or reject edits…" and "Doesn't the writer determine how much they're worth, and when enough is enough?"
Let's hope UOW makes the writers festival a regular event.