The Best Way Forward was the last session I attended at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer’s Festival. It discussed avenues a writer could use to improve their writing.
Steve Amsterdam told us a story that turned some of my prejudices around, but reinforced others. He was born in America to a literary agent mother. As a child she let him read her slush pile (a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t). As a sixteen year-old he read pitches and synopsis sent to her and she let him send out rejection letters. He then worked for Random House for a number of years, before moving to Australia and competing a Master of Creative Writing at Melbourne University.
Now you would think that someone with his background would have a big advantage in getting published. That was not to be. He joked that he used to work for the biggest publisher in the world, but was finally published by the smallest publisher in the world, an Australian independent.
He said the Master of Creative Writing concentrated too much on theory, but the good thing about it was workshopping with some of its students. They have met once a month for the past three years and he likes their varied and reasoned prejudices. They sound a bit different to the people I did my masters with, most of whom worked for the Canberra public service and didn’t seem interested in critiquing (probably because most of them didn’t seem interested in reading, and except for a few of us who were writing genre fiction, they also seemed to have trouble thinking of anything to write about).
I wonder if Steve asked his mother to be his agent.
Rijn Collins has had over seventy short stories published. To get her writing out to the world she started an online workshop and they created their own online magazine.
I felt a bit downcast at hearing their stories as I am having trouble finding a suitable workshop.
Stu Hatton, a poet (dressed all in black) and creative writing teacher at Deakin University spoke next. He said a mentorship, organised and paid for by the Australian Society of Authors, with Dorothy Porter had really helped him. For a mentorship to succeed the student and mentor have to be able to relate to each other’s work. I found it interesting that Andrea Goldsmith, who was in a relationship with Dorothy Porter, also worked or works as a writing teacher at Deakin University.
Stu also said he leaves anything he was written to stew for a while and he tried to quell his desire to impress.
Poet Pooja Mittal has an editor as a mentor.
If only I could find a suitable mentor.
If only I could find a suitable workshop.
If only writing and life and everything was easy.
But it seems Malcolm Fraser was right.
The festival had finished for me. I felt the best session was Seven Enviable Lines for the amount of information imparted. Just Write Damn It was good for motivation and the Great State Divide got me thinking about all the white man’s guilt inside me.
Overall, at $40 for the weekend, the festival was too good a value for any unpublished writer living in Melbourne to miss. I had to travel down from Wangaratta and stayed two nights, so it cost me a bit more, but I still found it excellent value and left with lots of ideas to think about and implement.