Things To Do At The Emerging Writers Festival (When You’re In Canberra)

I attended the Emerging Writers Festival in person two years in a row when I lived in Melbourne, in 2009 and 2010.  I volunteered, helped with sitting-behind-zine-fair-table duties and largely just participated enthusiastically. It’s a valuable, wonderful, recommended time for anyone passionate about writing in any of its forms and offshoots.

But for this year’s fest, as in 2011, I’m several hundred kilometres away, in Canberra. This is fine, I love Canberra (in a complicated way). But I would still like to be at the fest. Maybe you’re the same. Maybe you’re even further away, or tantalisingly close, but otherwise engaged.

Not to worry! Because the EWF is awesome, they’ve thought of plenty of opportunities for participation, engagement and development, using this internet thing that everyone’s talking about.

The EWF itself is already up-and-running, May 24 to June 3, but in the middle, kicking off and on and on between May 28 and June 1 there’s EWFDigital, a program specifically made for the online space. Take note: this is rad, and Festival Director Lisa Dempster has put together some really interesting thoughts on literary participation in an online space, so you know they’re taking it seriously, and it’s not just a sidenote. This year, there’s something called Stories in Your Stream, online panel discussions, TwitterFest, online exhibitions, an interactive keynote and probably stacks more.

Watch this space, I guess. [EDIT: The afternoon after I wrote this post, EWFDigital was properly launched. This all feels a bit premature now. All I can say is: go. Get amongst it!]

For now, it’s probably even worthwhile delving 20 pages or so into the EWF Blog archives to check out last year’s EWFDigital programming.

Speaking of which: the EWF Blog. It brings together posts from a variety of bloggers, from the aforementioned festival director to a wide variety of EWF attendees and participants. EWF attendees and participants are awesome. They write summaries and reflections regarding festival events, experiences and even the after-parties. Keep an eye out.

Then there’s EWF’s Twitter profile, and the #ewf12 hashtag that will be flooding people’s feeds. These will lead you to further goodness and good people.

And I’m keenly awaiting the arrival into my earholes of I Heard You Like Rereading Books?. It shall be a wondrous fusion of JoMad and The Rereaders, recorded live in front of an EWF audience, for our later listening pleasure.

And I may just have written one of the upcoming reviews of self-published books for the NSW Writers Centre’s blog, as the Emerging Writers Festival joins them for 366 Days of Writing.

Oh, that’s right, AND I’m participating in the Online Team (AKA Team Awesome) for The Rabbit Hole. We’re each gonna be aiming to write 30,000 words in 3 days next weekend. Meh, no biggies (ie I AM QUIVERING). More on my plans for that soon, hopefully. For now, follow #rabbithole I guess!

And there’s probably more! Who knows what else is in store for a digital attendee of EWF? At the very least, do the festival proud and write like you’re possessed by a writing fever that can only be cured by writing writing writing. Like the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about.

I think it’s important to recognise, and embrace, both the limitations and the possibilites of digital participation in a festival, and with literature generally. Really, nothing beats attending a good festival in person, but then there are some things you can only do in an online space. Ideally, experience both, if you can. But if, like me, you’re a writer (or an emerging writer, or whatever writing-inclined label you wanna give yerself) who can’t get anywhere near Melbourne’s CBD over the next few days, why not participate online?

See you at the fest.

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Willy Lit Fest Part 1: Being Frankie and Talking Blogs

Last weekend I ventured along to the Williamstown Literary Festival and checked out a couple of panels:  Let’s Be frankie, Literary Blogging and From the Quill to the Kindle. All in all, it was good stuff, and it was nice to experience a different part of Melbourne, one that’s more like a coastal town, with the sea breeze, fish n chips and hordes of seagulls, along with some good literary company.

Thuy Linh Nguyen has already written about her experiences going to two of these panels, and Lisa Dempster has expanded on some of the stuff covered in her blogging panel, which I’ll get to later. But first, Let’s Be frankie.

I was drawn to this one because, while I don’t mind the odd look through a frankie mag if I see one,  I really wanted to see Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law. The former, still jetlagged from an extended holiday in volcano-wracked Iceland, I’ve long been a fan of, thanks to First Tuesday Bookclub, JJJ Breakfast, her blog and her numerous other writings.  The latter I recently became a fan of, upon reading his hilarious story about murdering cockroaches en masse in the latest Brow. And I’m really looking forward to his first book, The Family Law. PLUS he just did an interview with Virgule, the newish Voiceworks blog. Check it.

So with Susan Bird as chair, and plenty of  audience interlocution, their casual discussion covered all kinds of things, from freelancing to Twitter to Ben’s mum’s vagina.

Ben, who often writes somewhat ‘personal’ stuff about his partner, parents and siblings, mentioned that family is such an interesting subject for writing because it’s one of the basic social units, like a microcosm of society. It’s true, your family shapes who you are and how you relate to people. Plus everyone’s got one, so it’s always at least somewhat relatable.

They discussed how important it is to run your material past the people you’re writing about if you think there’s the slightest chance they might have issues with it. Plus, it really helps to flesh out your work and get a new perspective on it.

They went on to discuss that, sure it can be good to be honest and lay everything on the table when you write, but have you really thought about the consequences of putting what you’re writing out into the world? Have you considered your audience and the context and how it could be received? Some boundaries are important. Sure, external censorship is something to take a stand against, but it’s interesting to think about how important self-censorship can be, for good or ill. And all of this applies not just to stories, articles and essays, but to blog posts, status updates and even microblogging/tweets (hello Catherine Deveny). They also touched on the idea of ‘the illusion of intimacy’, which I’ll get to later.

Ben discussed the life of a freelancer. He always strives to find something interesting in any dull freelance gig he takes on, and noted how easy it is to get overloaded, because you always think every assignment is going to be your last. He also recommended that, when you’re writing, you should keep a template of ‘good writing’ close by (or perhaps at the back of your mind), so that you’ve got something to aim for, no matter how high you’re aiming.

Marieke mentioned how handy she found News Ltd. lawyers, as dull as they might sound, and how they kept her out of trouble 99% of the time when she wrote for the Green Guide. Still, she was a little surprised that the people she’s writing about actually read her columns and sometimes take offense. It was similar back when she was writing her blog. She saw it as a place to vent, and didn’t really consider any potential offense, defamation or other trouble she could face. It’s funny, I guess when you’re a lone blogger, most people aren’t going to bother taking you to court, whereas a huge organisation like The Age with a reputation, stakeholders and circulation necessitates the team of lawyers.

She also discussed how it’s easier writing about crap TV, because writing about programmes you love just turns into celebratory, masturbatory drivel. Finally, she compared her scriptwriting to her blogging, and discussed how writing for TV doesn’t get much personal response when the finished product finally emerges, whereas writing online has the benefit of immediacy and instant feedback.

*

Speaking of writing online, the next day, satisfied but eager for more, I went along to the Literary Blogging panel, with Lisa Dempster and Angela Meyer (aka Ms LiteraryMinded), both of whom have blogs I follow and enjoy reading, so I was interested to hear their thoughts. There were plenty of questions from the small but engaged crowd and it gave me a lot to think about.

They both agreed that blogging can help you find your voice, build your style and help you grow as a unique writer. Lisa reckoned writing her book Neon Pilgrim was easier because she’d been blogging for so long. She didn’t have to struggle to find a writing voice; she already had that part mostly sorted.

They said that blogging is a discipline to stick to, and that you have to want to stick to it, then it builds its own momentum, just like other forms of writing I guess. But it’s unique in that it’s a good way to test ideas and see what others are thinking. You can admit that your ideas aren’t fully formed and open them up for discussion.

Angela says she still questions her role when she’s blogging: is she a reviewer? A cultural commentator? ‘Just a blogger’? Or, simply, a writer? It’s part of the necessary constant process of self-reflexivity.

And again, they touched on this idea of self-censorship. They wondered about ‘stepping on toes’, especially in such a tight community like that of Australian literary bloggers. You want to be honest, but there is always a degree of self-censorship. The question is where to draw the line. Personally, I want to be able to critique art, literature, media and the world around me, but at the same time, it can be damn hard to really call out perceived major flaws in something, or someone’s work, especially if they’re just starting out or you know them personally. So do you tone down your critique, not put up a review, or be bold, harsh but fair, and give an open opportunity for anyone to reply, refute and defend?

They also discussed this ‘illusion of intimacy’ idea that Ben and Marieke touched on. Sometimes these writers have been accused of being not just honest, but ‘oversharers’. But the fact is, people often don’t know about all the stuff that they’re not sharing. It can seem like they’re telling readers everything about their life and readers might feel that they know everything about them. But like all art, blogging is a constructed representation, and while you may be getting an honest picture and feel you know all about the author, you only know about them from what they give you. Three quarters of their life, or more, might not even be hinted at.

Is this ‘illusion’ a bad thing? Not really. Unless you want to go, warts and all, publishing the minutiae of your life, while alienating everyone you know and possibly facing legal action, it’s hard to have it otherwise. The boundary has to lie somewhere. In the end, of course, it has to be a personal decision. As long as you strive to be honest and fair in what you do reveal, and seriously consider what to publish and what to hold back, then it’s all good.

When asked about whether one should try to blend a large variety of topics in one blog , Lisa replied that cross-over is fine. The blog is your blog, so its topic is always going to be you and your interests. Other people have cross-over interests too, and if your blog is good enough, people will keep coming back for the stuff that they’re interested in, and won’t mind the odd uninteresting post.

There were a couple of other tidbits to think about:

  • A blog evolves over time and has its own narrative. So in a sense, a blog is a story.
  • Before the rise of Facebook and Twitter, people used online ‘handles’ more often. But now with such sites we’re commonly going by our real names online, or our real names are not so hidden anymore. Interesting point.
  • How is blogging perceived? How do you perceive it? Is it for your ‘best’ work? Does it really distract you from other writing? Or is it just a part of the broader spectrum of writing?
  • Finally, they mentioned two interesting things I’d never really heard of: blog tours, where someone hops along onto various blogs from all over the place, providing guest posts on each. Then there’s blog carnivals, where various bloggers all riff on a chosen topic, and they can engage with each others ideas on that topic.

Essentially, this panel built on what I already knew about blogging, gave me a lot to consider and gave me a good kick in the rear to blog more. All in all, blogging is experimental: it’s an experiment for each individual and also because the internet is a medium in flux, all of this stuff is still changing and being negotiated.

Speaking of emergent mediums: eBooks!

But that final panel will have to wait for Part 2, in the next day or two. This time I’m not going to go away for a week or so; I’m going to get some of that momentum happening with this blogging thing.

010110

If you go by the ever-sensible dd/mm/yy format, and remove the slashes, then today (and several other dates in this new year) are in binary.  Truly, we are now living in the future!

Yup, it’s a new year. It’s the 21st century in double digits. It’s THE FUTURE.  So in keeping with this, it’s more than fitting that I kick off 2010 by getting down with the technology. So as promised, I’m continuing this blog beyond Uni and I’m going to try posting once a week, and hopefully more. I’m keen to start writing some reviews, rambling about things I’m interested in and just experimenting with maintaining a blog.

Since my last post, I’ve completed my diploma, with marks that I’m quite pleased with. I’m facing the first full year since I was four without an educational institution structuring my life. I’ve snagged myself a job in a bookshop. I’m looking to get more experience and involvement in the world of publishing. And I’m going to be reading and writing more than ever before, and not just for this blog. I’ve got lots of plans!

And yes, I’m on Twitter now.

The future looks wonderfully distracting. Here’s hoping I still manage to do good things.

So here’s to a jolly good 2010, full of reading, writing, editing, publishing and more!

To tweet or not to tweet?

So it seems like Twitter is well and truly established in the interwebbertubertrons, at least for the time being, and I’ve actually started reading a few people’s feeds on a somewhat regular basis. The only problem is, at the moment I don’t even have an account. Yup, I’m pretty much a Twitter lurker, reading but not really interacting.

I think I will finally join up in a few weeks, after I’ve finished all of my Uni assignments and taken a bit of a holiday. It’s just that until then, I don’t really need another distraction. I know if I have a Twitter feed to check compulsively every 5 minutes, it’ll be like having seven Facebook accounts. Nothing will get done, at least not until I get past the novelty stage and I don’t know when or if that would end. So I’m not opening that Pandora’s Box just yet.

 

(Image:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/carrotcreative/ / CC BY 2.0)

I know it’s the whole Google Reader situation all over again for me. Before getting with the times and being introduced to Google Reader in class, I had a bookmarked list of blogs that I would check several times daily on lazy days and a mental list that I would check occasionally too. Now that I use Google Reader, I can go to one page and see exactly where my distraction lies, nicely summarised to show exactly how many posts  I can read when I choose to (621? Oh, that’s nice). Likewise, if I actually signed up to Twitter, I could just go to one website containing my feed, rather than remembering which separate pages I may want to check at any given time, whether or not they’ve been updated. But still, either way, I think I need to hold off on joining the tweeting hordes for now.

On a side note, it’s interesting how in several recent articles, on both The Age‘s website and various  culture/entertainment websites, Twitter posts are a way of both gathering and communicating a quick cross-section of community opinion. This seems to be applied to any topic, from TV shows to complex political issues, and not just the Iranian elections.

So of course, it’s not all distraction. As with all things online, I check out stuff from people who write entertaining things, who find really interesting articles, share mind-expanding stories or forward amazing videos. Twitter will help me do that too, and share back in return. It’s all part of the conversation. And there will, of course, be a few lolcats and inane posts about how delicious my sandwich was. That’s life. It’s just another part of a diverse multimedia-infused world that is constantly evolving, and involving everything: conversations, phonecalls, letters,  novels, poetry, websites, music videos, video games, a friendly wave and a smile, SMS, comics, and now tweets.

Having said all that, any recent converts, or maybe people who are Twitter Qwitters? Anyone who can convincingly sway me either way? Don’t worry, it’s a few weeks at least before I finally pick sides. And no matter which side you’re on, we’ll always have terrible Twitter puns to unite us. Because in the end, websites like Twitter are what you make of them. They can be fun, useful and edifying, depending on who you connect with, but always remember moderation, and most of all, remember: all that Twitters is not gold. BAM!