Friday, 29 August 2014

Writers' festivals vs writers' conferences.

Hi there!
I'm prompted to write about writers' festivals and conferences today because the Melbourne Writers Festival is currently running and there's quite a bit of media about it.

I don't go to these programs very often - mainly because I'm short on time and also because I live so very far away from the where they're held.

On the occasions that I have attended a writers' festival I've quite enjoyed the experience but then, I'm very choosy about the events that I go to and the sessions that I attend, after all you pay a lot of money to go to these things.

I'm picky about the sessions I attend because I find that many of them are talk fests by academics or people with a particular political agenda they want to voice. That's okay - everyone has a right to an opinion - but I prefer to hear from publishers, agents and marketing people - those people, like me, who write fiction rather than non-fiction.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of those at the festivals too but perhaps not enough for me. For example, looking through the What's On section of the Melbourne Writers Festival, I can see they feature guest speakers discussing such subjects as, Independent Women, The Rise and Fall of Labor and Talking Points: The Political Party Machine.

Interesting they might be for some, these subjects are way too political for me - regardless of which way my political pendulum swings - they seem to be discussion type sessions rather than information sessions.

I want to learn, I want to grow as a writer and I want to hear the lessons learned by other writers as they share their writing experiences.

Am I missing something?

There's a session called Loyal Creatures which is about the horses that participated in WWI, again, it seems to be a discussion and includes a performance of a play. Besides the fact that it's about animals, meaning that I'd probably cry all the way through it, I can't see how it would help me become a better writer.

There seem to be only a couple of events for poets, which is a pity, and although there are a number of sessions I might be interested in attending, they're on different days. That means for each session, I'd have a two hour slog to get there, find a place to park - mortgage my house to pay for the parking - for only an hour, maybe two hours of a session, then two hours home again.

However valuable, informative or exciting the session, it's difficult to justify that.

Conferences, on the other hand, are often residential events where you get to stay on location without having to worry about the commute.

I went to a conference last year, you may recall I wrote about it on this page in August 2013. This  conference was held by Romance Writers Australia and I have to say, I got more out of that than any number of writers' festivals.

For starters, the focus of the RWA conference really was on writers. It was absorbing, full of information and the program was chock-a-block with guest speakers whose aim was to help their fellow fiction writer.

So perfect for me and the 300 odd others in attendance!

Added to that was the opportunity to meet and pitch ideas to agents and publishers, to learn from them and from each other. No one had a personal barrow to push, no one was making a political statement.

I'm all for free speech and freedom of expression, and there's no doubt that writers' festivals are a popular community event - why else would they feature on the event calendar of so many cities?

Yet for my money, I think I'll stick to the conferences, where I can meet, learn from and connect with other writers, publishers and agents on a level that I feel more comfortable with; where I can actually discover something new about writing and take ideas away.

Sounds like I'm denigrating the writers' festivals, doesn't it. Well, I'm not  - they just don't deliver what I'm looking for. I think if I lived closer to the city I might go but ... no I wouldn't trade where I'm living. I love the Mornington Peninsula!

Interesting news - the Romance Writers of Australia 2015 conference is going to be held in Melbourne!

If you are attending a writers' festival - particularly the Melbourne one - I'd love to hear your thoughts on what programs you attended and why.

Those of you not living in Australia, please share your thoughts on writers conferences and festivals in your part of the world.

Until next week - try to learn something new every day.

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