As I journeyed up the motorway earlier in September, there was little the raised eyebrows of other drivers could do to dampen my excitement as I drummed my steering wheel and sang along to the radio, for I was on my way to an event I’d been looking forward to for some time: the Festival of Writing in York.
Although I’ve spent years tapping away on my laptop with the study door shut, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet so many supportive writing friends online. Writing doesn’t have to be lonely. But it’s especially great when I get to go to live events and meet other writers in person.
After the enjoyment of discussing literary projects with writers from Toronto to Helsinki over some ‘brew’, when I arrived, it was time for the day to commence. I could write a dissertation about everything I learned, but here are the best bits…
- Write what’s right for your story. I heard many people say things along the lines of ‘X agent said this but Y contradicted it with that’. The reason for these opposing opinions became clear to me during a workshop about how to open a novel with Chris Wellbelove and Jamie Coleman from Greene & Heaton. As we worked through a number of opening extracts, some from published authors and others submitted by delegates, I began to understand that, although there’s best practice, there are no rules and what’s ‘right’ really depends on what works for your novel.
- Writing can be an epic journey and, during a talk about getting and staying published, Matt Haig offered some wise words that are essential for any writer who wants to keep going: ‘Write what you’d like to read’. Just like a long road trip is much better spent with a good friend rather than an annoying associate, it’s best to journey through a book with an idea you love and won’t fall out with by the end. Not too many times anyway.
- An entire workshop by Debi Alper made for a game-changing lesson: psychic distance is a scale. Psychic distance is all about how close the narrator, and therefore the reader, is to a character. Debi likened it to a camera on a film set: if it remains static, it becomes dull and if it jerks from one position to another too suddenly, it induces nausea. So, the key is to slide back and forth naturally. The only way to master the controls is to ‘practice, practice, practice’, said Debi.
- When you’re ready to share your work with others, as long as you’re putting it in front of the right people, feedback isn’t an attack but a gift. Generally. Constructive feedback is ideal but some people are more direct than others. Take the emotion out of it and listen for any points that resonate with you. You can always bin the rest!
- The final, and arguably most important lesson, is that cake is great for creativity. Writers, agents and publishers swarmed to the dessert table throughout the festival for something sweet. Writing is a big thing. Creativity is enjoyable but requires endurance. Treat yourself along the way. It’ll help you go the distance.
I’m back home now with the kettle on boil and a slice of chocolate cake in front of me that’s crying ‘eat me!’ I’ll savour every mouthful and then it’s back to writing, taking on board everything I’ve learned from the Festival of Writing.
Always remember, it’s good for a writer to eat cake and be merry.