Byron Bay Writers Festival has been and gone for another year. The writers, the weather, co-chairing the Nuts&Bolts professional development seminar , doing vox pops with authors, and chairing a session on historical fiction in the SCU Marquee – it all added up to an immersive experience in the world of writing and publishing that will nourish me for months to come.
Now I am preparing for Melbourne Writers Festival. Busy month. But before I move on from Byron enitrely, I want to continue the wrap up. I had the chance to speak at length with Peter Bishop, Creative Director of Varuna, a man I am dubbing Australia’s least known and most important contributor to literary culture.
Peter spoke about his life, and how he did not follow the beaten track to get where he is. Writing is an industry of a million written and unwritten rules, but he argues that following them does not guarantee results. Rather, Peter encourages writers to be rebels, not to kotow to any particular rules or guidelines for success, but to devote your energies to challenging yourself and finding your voice. It was thought-provoking stuff for one to hear who had just spent a day involved in delivering a professional development seminar for writers. Had I just spent a day involved in telling writers the rules to follow, the recipe for success?
Upon reflection, I realise that my passion for community and professional development for writers is more about linking people together – online writing peers, industry leaders, regional writers, etc – than providing instructions. There is a wealth of resources available for writers to tap into to develop themselves and their craft, but at different points in a writer’s career, it can be difficult to know where those resources are. Writing is a craft: there are masters, apprentices, cohorts. There are a raft of tools and approaches that different writers can select for their toolkit, tailored to their own interests, genres, and stages of career.
Beyond that, Peter’s final point is one that struck a deep chord in me. There is a crucial and lively conversation, between writers and on writing, extending through the whole literary world from publishers to readers. I encourage every writer to nuture their imaginative space by finding ways to connect with this broader conversation: through festivals, writers groups, courses, writers centres, fellowships … Wherever and however you can, find your peers, your buddies, your mentors and teachers – because that will help you find your own stories and develop your own voice.