How to grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it) – The Emerging Writers’ Festival and ‘The Pitch’

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

The Wheeler Centre was packed out with emerging artists keen to maximise their chances of a successful pitch

How do you grab the attention of a publisher (and keep it)? This was the over-arching question posed to panellists of The Pitch. The Emerging Writers’ Festival session was fittingly chaired by writer Nina Gibb, who is in the midst of Pitch Frenzy, 50 pitches/submissions/proposals in 11 days.

The first panellist to be introduced was Vanessa Radnidge, Publisher at Hachette Australia. Hachette accept unsolicited manuscripts, but prioritise agent submissions. All submissions (including unsolicited) are read, but Hachette do not necessarily read the entire submission. Vanessa offered a few tips for writers:

  1. Read widely in the genre to gain an awareness of, and display a passion for, your chosen genre. Read outside the genre to help foster your own writing skills.
  2. Resist the urge to send off your manuscript to publishers as soon as you’ve written that last sentence. After you’ve completed a full draft, step away from your manuscript and let it breathe.
  3. Proof read your work. Don’t do it on screen.
  4. When sending off a manuscript to publishers, include the following:
    • An author bio
    • 300 words describing the work (read book blurbs to get a sense of eye-catching summaries)
    • Detailed synopsis (1 page at the most)

Acknowledging the hard slog faced by writers, Vanessa urged artists to take time to celebrate the achievements and to not be disheartened by rejection. ‘If you love your writing, write’.

Next up was Patrick Lenton, Digital Marketer at Momentum Books. Momentum primarily publish genre fiction (owing to strong online demand), and look closely at authors who have a strong online presence (Patrick cited blogs, Twitter and online networks such as Goodreads as great platforms).  Being a digital publisher, Momentum have an opportunity to experiment and take on new writers. While there is a chance that Pan Macmillan may acquire a Momentum title and release a print publication, the main priority of Momentum is strong global digital sales. Manuscripts do not need to have an Australian setting, as Momentum sell e-books globally.

Sam Cooney, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Lifted Brow , is on the look-out for innovative and experimental narratives that are ‘more than text on the page or on the screen’. He told the audience ‘if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not challenging your reader’. Sam believes it is better to know a publisher, and to submit work to one or two publishers, than to send work to a multitude of publishers.  When submitting via email, Sam recommends limiting your amazing personality to the first line of your email and let your manuscript showcase your talents.

Julia Carlomagno, Scribe editor and co-founder of Harvest, looks for three things in a manuscript:

  1. Distinctive voice
  2. Quality of the writing
  3. Strength of the idea

Julia urged writers not to be drawn in by the prospect of large advances, because if you don’t earn your advance in sales, all publishers who look on Bookscan (and they all do) will notice. Julia warned writers against comparing themselves to, and getting dismayed by, author marketing on social media. ‘Put the work first. Write because you want to write, because you have something to say. Eventually the work will find its way.’

A few highlights from audience question time

Q: What state of polish is acceptable?

Julia will consider a manuscript if it was a strong voice, but not if it’s really poorly presented to the extent that it compromises the legibility.

Sam stressed ‘if the grammar gets in the way, you’re just putting one more hurdle in the way between you and the reader’. Writers need to be aware, and follow, submission guidelines.

Patrick reminded writers of the financial costs involved in helping polish a work. Momentum may be willing to fork out for a structural edit.

Q. What can get a manuscript over the line?

Nina suggested writers keep an eye out for manuscript development opportunities with various arts organisations.

Patrick told the audience to be aware of a saturated market.

Vanessa asked writers to consider the possibility that if a manuscript isn’t successful, then perhaps it won’t be the break-out novel. Move on to your next manuscript.

Q. What tips do you have for pitching in person?

Patrick recommended being bold and direct with your pitch. Give the publisher/agent a tangible description.

Sam told writers to ask themselves ‘what makes it different to anything else? Why do you believe your work deserves to be published?’

Q. What advice do you have for literary speed dating? What do you want to hear?

Vanessa wants to know the hook. Why should I want to read it?

Julia looks out for a strong story, and writers who have an awareness of their potential readership.

Sam wants to know why you are the best placed person to tell this story. What unique perspective do you have to offer? He looks for signs of sustained interest from the writer. Sam said to remember that it is a conversation – plan what you’re going to say; have cue-cards if you need, but don’t recite from slabs of text.

Q. Do writers need to define their manuscripts by sub-genres?

Patrick informed the audience that sub genres are used as meta-data in digital publishing, enabling readers to more closely choose what they want to read.

Sam said if you strongly pitch the story, the editor/publisher will be able to sub-categorise the manuscript themselves.

Vanessa needs to describe a manuscript to the Publishing Director/CEO in a maximum of two to three lines. The author needs a hook that can be relayed to the bookshop owner. Catch someone’s attention.

Festival Blogger 250x250

‘Don’t worry about being good, just begin’ – An Inspirational Opening Night Extravaganza

 

Back cover of the EWF14 booklet

Back cover of the EWF14 booklet.

The first thing I noticed when I entered The Deakin Edge last night was the mini book stall. The second thing I noticed was the sizeable crowd of VIPs. While it prrrrrrobably would have been in your interest for me to mingle and get the pre-extravaganza gossip, my knotted stomach and clenched throat were too busy reminding me that I was standing in a room full of people, so, in the true spirit of a socially-stunted writer, I hurriedly secured a seat in preparation for the main event.

Mary Masters, Chair of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Board, did a splendid job as emcee (stepping in for Justin Heazlewood) of The Emerging Writer’s Festival Opening Night Extravaganza.

Word nerd and literary wrangler, Telia Nevile, didn’t just start with a bang, but a seriously hilarious head bangin’ tune – ‘Apostrophe Apocalypse’.  I was so captivated by the fierce grammar-raging death metal tones emanating from such a tiny frame, that I failed to focus on the words that were spoken sung raged (if she reads this blog she’ll undoubtedly find a range of poor grammar/punctuation to rage about. Yes, Telia, this is all for your benefit. You’re welcome).  Ever the eclectic artist, Telia moved into her loogie-filled haiku, ‘Love is a head cold’. After musing that ‘when words are not enough, sometimes you have to resort to interpretive dance’, Telia closed her set with an interpretative dance number, ‘The Damp Patch Where My Love Once Was’.

Telia Nevile and her interpretive dance, ‘The Damp Patch Where My Love Once Was’

Telia Nevile and her interpretive dance, ‘The Damp Patch Where My Love Once Was’.

Maxine Clarke, winner of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (VPLA) for Foreign Soil, gave a brief yet passionate speech about her experience with EWF and the VPLA. Maxine was truly inspiring with her honesty, as she spoke of initially being intimidated by how different her manuscript was from the previous winning entry, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson. Maxine said that the VPLA ‘really opened up every door possible’, as she went on to secure a three-book deal with Hachette and a grant from Australia Council. She also paid tribute to EWF, which she has been involved with since 2008, for providing writers with the opportunity to connect with other writers and industry professionals.

Minister of the Arts, the Hon Heidi Victoria MP, spoke of the importance of The Emerging Writers’ Festival, and other Victorian art festivals, as advocates, incubators and promoters of writers. She spoke of the ‘abundance of raw and as-yet undiscovered’ Victorian artists before announcing the implementation of a Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office, which will live within the Wheeler Centre, but will be a separate organisation. More information about the announcement can be found here. Focusing back on the VPLA, Hon Heidi noted that there were 113 submissions this year. The audience obliged her request for a drumroll by stamping their feet, and she announced and introduced the winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, Miles Allinson. You can read about Miles and the shortlisted entries at The Wheeler Centre.

Miles accepted the award for Fever of Animals and said possibly the most tweeted quote of the night: ‘I was always sceptical of literary awards … having never won one’. He talked about his unease with the winners/losers culture of awards, as it goes against the nature of writing – an art form that complicates simplistic and false logic. Miles found being short-listed more rewarding than winning, but went on to say that awards and nominations offer compliments to writers who spend years in solitary poverty. He emphasised that it took six years to complete Fever of Animals, and that the act of writing was much stranger, quieter and more solitary than events like tonight suggest.

'Literature is much stranger, quieter and solitary than events like tonight suggest' - Miles Allinson.

Miles Allinson

Professor Rae Frances presented the winners of the 2014 Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. Before announcing the winners, she highlighted the importance of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and of having an award to encourage younger writers at a time when soul-destroying, discouraging thoughts can lead a writer to think they have no future. Emily Riches from the University of NSW was announced as the overall prize winner for her work, ‘Unfruitful’, with Leah McIntosh winning the award for the highest-placed Monash student for her work, ‘The Wading Pool’. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t enough time for Emily and Leah to speak, but no doubt they’ll feature in many festivals to come.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle paid tribute to the ‘agonising endeavour of writing’ and thanked Miles Allinson for the six years of work that went into Fever of Animals. Expressing pride in the vibrant Victorian literary community, he revealed that three new libraries are opening in 2014, including one at the Docklands, and was thrilled to announce the creation of the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office (I was hoping he’d go into more detail about how the office would differ to what The Wheeler Centre and its inhabitants offer, but I guess we’ll all have to wait and see. Mary Masters did say after his speech that the office will open connections and collaborations with other UNESCO City of Literature offices around the world.)

Festival Director and CEO, Sam Twyford-Moore, described The Emerging Writers’ Festival as an event that reveals and celebrates new talents poised to be literary stars, with 250 writers taking part in 100 events over 11 days. Sam stressed the importance of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, ‘at a point when (emerging artists) are likely to give up, to stop them from giving up’. He urged everyone in attendance that ‘there is no supporter as strong as you. You are the festival and this festival is you … we’re just here to get you going’ and to ‘turn these days into the story you want to tell’.

Derrick Brown closed the Opening Night Extravaganza with his keynote address.  He started off by saying ‘The first poem I’m going to do tonight is very good. I wrote it with my mind, and then with my body’. He noted that writers aren’t that social, and aren’t that good at chatting with each other, before telling the audience to turn to the person next to them and say, ‘nice face’. He then commenced reciting a poem in which he offered advice to his younger self, the emerging writer. It was filled with such gems as ‘floss once in a while; you can rule the world’, ‘pretend you love hardship’ and ‘the crazies have the power; the crazies have all the power; you must out-craze the crazies’. For this blogger, who took far too long to write her first EWF blogging partner post, the following advice from Derrick Brown was the most profound: ‘Don’t worry about being good, just begin’.

'Pretend you love hardship'. Sage words of advice from Derrick Brown to Derrick Brown.

‘Pretend you love hardship’. Sage words of advice from Derrick Brown to Derrick Brown.

I hope you’re all as stoked about the EWF14 as I am. I’ll be at The Pitch, Festival Icebreaker, Kill Your Darlings: Highbrow vs Lowbrow  and No Lights, No Literature tonight. My mission, aside from attending these marvellous events, is to be an active participant (and, you know, talk to people instead of bolting from the room). Watch this space.

 

Review: ‘Win the Rings’ by K.D. Van Brunt

win_rings

Win the Rings is a young adult dystopian novel, narrated in first person from the perspectives of two sixteen year old shifters, Jace and Gray. Shifters have the ability to ‘acquire’ non-shifters through touch. Once acquired, shifters take on the physical form, memories, emotion and knowledge of the person they acquired, without losing their own sense of self. Taken by CRACD (Classified Resources Academy Delta, colloquially referred to as ‘Cracked’, a secret branch of the U.S. Army that trains young shifters) at five years of age, Jace is introduced to the reader as a powerful shifter who is both feared and bullied by her fellow cadets. Gray has been on the run with his non-shifter sister, Nia, since he was five years old. He manages to scrape by, by acquiring white-colour criminals and stealing their money. After one of his victims files a police report after realising her bank account has been emptied, Cracked sends Jace to track Gray down.

I found the front cover off-putting, because I personally feel that having a recognisable protagonist featured on a cover intrudes on my interpretation of a characters’ appearance. Having said that, I was captivated by the premise of the book, as described in the blurb, of Jace being ‘the property of the U.S. Army … (who has become) one of its most valuable weapons’.

The alternating chapter narrations makes Win the Rings, for the most part, a fast-paced, enjoyable read. As I was reading a Gray chapter I wondered how the events would effect the following Jace chapter, and vice versa. There was a great contrast of worlds, with the grim regimented military stronghold of Cracked that Jace inhabits add odds with the open-world inhabited by Gray and Nia, where each location presents high risk opportunities for loss or gain.

Jace’s chapters were, at times, frustrating to follow. The reader is often told about relationships and events, rather than shown. I got a sense that this was because there was so much back story about Jace, her relationship with others at Cracked, and the politics and history of Cracked, to cram in. For instance, Jace tells the reader: Once, years ago, I was friends with Max. We survived together at Cracked, but he stopped being a friend a long time ago, as our mutual feelings slipped from friendship to indifference to smouldering hatred. I wanted to see their history, to have a scene played out that showed their friendship dissolving, or, failing that, to see their smouldering hatred played out in a scene, rather than have Max leering in the background. Information, such as the HSK test and the abilities of a shifter, is delivered in bits and pieces in different chapters, which may have been done in such a way as to create suspense, but I found it jarring, as, thinking I had missed information, I found myself going back and re-reading chapters. Probably the most frustrating aspect of Jace’s chapters were references to her vanity. In one scene she expresses disappointment because she feels she is too skinny and flat-chested. In another scene she muses: somewhere in the back of my brain maybe I want to be beautiful, but beauty doesn’t survive well here. At one point she reflects: I’m not sure why I bother with make-up; it’s not like any of the guys around this place would want to have anything to do with me. While her low self-esteem and preoccupation with her image contrasts with other characters’ perception of her as a hardened bully, and would make her relatable to many female readers, I wondered whether other insecurities would have provided greater depth to her character and better matched her environment and circumstance, given she inhabits a place where cadets disappear or are killed. Would body image issues have still applied if Jace was re-written as a male character?

I felt that I learned more about Gray than I did Jace, because there was less back-story, which meant more time was devoted to following Gray and his sister as they tried to evade capture. The strength of Gray’s chapters is that the reader is taken along for the ride, and learns about character relationships as Gray does, rather than being told retrospectively. Gray was an exciting character to follow, with the bulk of his chapters being action packed. The pacing is pretty solid, as is the suspense, as Nia and Gray go from place to place, trying to survive while carving out something that resembles a normal life. It was fun to follow Gray as he acquired the white-colour criminals. There was an underlying suspense with everything Gray and Nia did, whether adventurous or mundane, as I wondered if or when they’d be tracked down.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Win the Rings and read it quite quickly. I wanted to see (not be told) more about Cracked, but I am hopeful this will be explored further in the sequel.  I don’t think the premise of the book was fully realised in Win the Rings but I am hopeful this will be fully developed in the sequel.

My rating:

starstarhalf star

 

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, K.D. Van Brunt, in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads.

 

 

An unexpected turn of events

About an hour ago I received an email in response to my application to be a blogging partner at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. The following all-too-familiar phrase caught my eye:

‘We had an extremely high calibre of applications this year …’

I was mentally preparing myself to combat the onslaught of negative self-talk that often ensues after a rejection (‘you’re wasting everyone’s time’, ‘you’re really not that good’, ‘maybe you should consider doing something productive with your life’ etc. ) when I read the rest of the sentence:

‘… and yours stood out to all of us on the team as one of the best. We’re thrilled to have you on board, and can’t wait to see you at the Festival.’

Wait, what? This is a new concept! I went back and read the email from the start.

Hello Lovely Blogger Applicant,

Happy Friday – you’ve been selected to be one of this years Emerging Writers Festival Bloggers! Congratulations! 
We had an extremely high calibre of applications this year, and yours stood out to all of us on the team as one of the best. We’re thrilled to have you on board, and can’t wait to see you at the Festival.

 

The funny thing is, I had been so hell-bent on receiving another rejection, that I didn’t even notice the good news written in the opening sentence of the email. Prior to receiving the email, I knew that I was going to blog about my festival experience, anyway. I was already excited about the impending festival, and looking forward to sharing the wisdom and wonder of the various festival events with you. It’s just been an added bonus (and has put a bit of a kick in my step) to receive the news that my relatively new blog will be part of the EWF14 blogs.

NUMFAR – DO THE DANCE OF JOY!

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer’s Festival

Plot, Pitch, Persist, Perform and Partake – Emily Stewart and the Emerging Writers’ Festival

(C) John Stewart 2013. Used with permission.

(C) John Stewart 2013. Used with permission.

With the 2014 Emerging Writers’ Festival just around the corner, I had a chat with Emily Stewart about her experience as a participant at the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival. Emily’s installation, The Dear Reader Project, involved conversing with a participant before giving them one of her treasured books, along with a unique handwritten letter. I also asked Emily what’s got her excited about ewf2014.

How did you first hear about EWF?

I remember first hearing about EWF years ago, when I was living in Canberra. I’ve been attending the festival since moving to Melbourne in 2010, and became an active participant in the festival for the first time last year.

What inspired you to take part in the festival?

Having attended the festival in the past, I had a sense of its atmosphere – it felt like an open and inclusive place where I could test out something a bit different. I wrote my pitch and sent it through straight away, before I could talk myself out of it.

Had you pulled out before submitting a pitch to EWF before?

I had definitely seen the call out for participants come and go in previous years.

What got you over the line to send this pitch off? Do you think it was belief in the project, not wanting to let the call out come and go again, or something else entirely?

Firstly it was a strong idea that I was excited by. But I think I’d also reached a point where it was time to dive in.

What was the inspiration behind the Dear Reader project?

I was interested in exploring our relationship to books as objects. I’d come to a crossroads in my own behaviour where I’d started avidly reading ebooks, and the psychic weight of the books on my shelves had begun to bear down on me. I was interested in the psychology of what books we keep, and why, as well as the question of what to do with all of them. Could I give them away? Would that be devastating? Why?

Were there any challenges leading up to Dear Reader?

In the month preceding the installation, I had a severe flare up of RSI. It was pretty scary at the time – I lost function of my right hand to the point where I couldn’t even turn a door handle or brush my teeth. Initially I’d been planning on giving away fifty books, but I ended up having to downsize.

Your injury didn’t alter the mechanics of your installation, though, just the scale?

Luckily just the scale – and it worked out for the best. Thirty books was just the right amount for the length of the installation. I thought for a time that I might have to dictate the letters for someone else to type or write, and that would have been pretty challenging. I don’t think I can write unless my hand is moving – maybe that’s a different challenge for another time.

How did you promote your event?

In the lead-up to the event, I didn’t do too much promotion. Because I could only interact with a maximum of thirty people, there wasn’t the pressure to draw a large audience. I put a note up on my blog and did a couple of tweets on the day so that people at the festival knew where to find me. But I knew I wanted to write about the installation, and so I also sought out opportunities to publish an essay about it. Which is how I ended up writing the piece for If: Book Australia!

What was the most rewarding part of the Dear Reader project?

The conversations I had with each participant. The conversations started about books and spiralled out in all kinds of strange and wonderful ways. It reminded me – the project reminded me – that we read because we want to engage with the world and learn it better. I think that a book on its own isn’t quite enough – you need to also be able to test your reading with others, whether this is in direct or indirect ways.

What was the stand-out moment as a festival attendee?

An event called Sweatshop Stories – Sweatshop are a collective of writers from Western Sydney. They put a lot of effort into presenting their work in an engaging way, and the result was stunning. I think most of the room was in tears by the end of it (in a good way). I think three of last year’s performers, Peter Polities, Luke Carman and Mohammed Ahmad, will be at the festival again this year in a showcase called #Three Jerks.

What are you up to now?

I’ve just finished up editing a novella for Seizure Publishing’s Viva La Novella 2 competition. This is an initiative in support of emerging editors and writers – I was selected as one of four commissioning editors, so our role was to read through submissions and select and edit our chosen manuscript for publication. We’re launching the finished books at this year’s festival – until then, my lips are otherwise sealed!

As well as this, I am working on a visual presentation of my poetry, alongside painter Naomi Bishop for an exhibition at the Rubicon ARI in September. This is an extension of work I undertook as part of a recent residency at the Arteles Creative Centre in Finland. And later this year i’ll be undertaking a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Residency, where I’ll be working on a couple of chapbook manuscripts.

So you’ll be at the ‘Night of the Living Novellas: Hologram and Seizure Launches‘? Will you be presenting?

That’s it. Yes, I’ll be saying a few words about my selected manuscript. It’s going to be a very fun and very chaotic night – it’s the combined launch of Seizure and Hologram Books, so six new books in one night!

Which ewf2014 events are you really pumped for?

It’s a great program this year, and I feel very spoiled for choice. As an editor, the Emerging Editors day is a definite must-see. I’ve also booked in to the mysterious No Lights No Literature event, in which a panel of writers will spill all in the safety of pitch darkness. The other thing I’m really excited about is Astrid Lorange’s workshop; The Book As Experimental Form. In two hours, a small group of participants will create a book. What will even happen? Who knows!

Do you have any words of wisdom for the ewf2014 presenters?

All I can say is good luck, have fun, and see you at the festival bar!

I’m guessing the same advice applies festival attendees (I’ll happily take the festival bar advice)?

Definitely!

 Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

Emily’s essay about the aims and achievements of the Dear Reader project was published on if:book Australia. Read more about Emily’s artistic ventures, including reflections on the Dear Reader Project, on her blog. You can also find her on Twitter, at @StewEmily .

Tickets to the 2014 Emerging Writers’ Festival are selling fast. Check out a list of events here.

A shout out to fellow income-deficient Melbournian writers  

There's gold in them thar cushions!  © LizMcShane

There’s gold in them thar cushions!
© LizMcShane

As I mentioned in Fear and Loathing – living and writing with depression and anxiety, I’ve made it my mission to reinvigorate my creativity by getting more involved in the Melbourne arts scene. Naturally, I was super excited when I realised the Emerging Writers’ Festival was just around the corner, then I got all sad because my finances had gotten to a stage where I was bordering on orgasmic whenever I found a $2 coin behind the couch.

And then I did something crazy.

I logged onto the EWF website.

And I actually LOOKED at the events.

Do you realise there are eleventy million free events at the festival (Well, maybe not eleventy million, but there are a lot.)?! Some of the freebies include  ‘Opening Night Extravaganza’, ‘Translation Nation’, ‘No Lights, No Literature’, ‘The Art of the Short Story’ and ‘Lunch/Soapbox: Sam George-Allen’. So, if you’re a couch miner like me, don’t be disheartened – sign up to a few events (you will have the opportunity to make a donation when you book) and prepare to be inspired by all the amazing artists. Look out for me – I’ll be the socially defunct blogger hiding in the corner.

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer’s Festival

In anticipation of EWF14, I’ll be chatting with Emily Stewart this week about her experience as a creator and presenter at the 2013 festival.

Fear and Loathing – living and writing with depression and anxiety

Every time I rest my fingers on the keyboard, poised to type, a negative rationale tells me that my venture will end in one of the following ways:

Like this:

Used with permission from Microsoft

Used with permission from Microsoft

Or this:

Used with permission from Microsoft

Used with permission from Microsoft

Or, one and then the other.

Inability to put words on a page, or keep them there long enough to turn words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, chapters into manuscript drafts, drafts into redrafts and redrafts into a world-dominating kick-assery of a novel, plagued me for over a year. With no end in sight, I reassured myself that I was merely experiencing a rather extended episode of writer’s block.

I’ve been to various writing seminars over the years, and the Q&A section invariably resulted in panellists being asked how they overcome writer’s block. Responses ranged from ‘I don’t suffer from writer’s block’ (which left me marvelling at their wondrous brains) to ‘there’s no such thing as writer’s block (which…just…let’s move on…) to ‘just write’. Although the irony of the last response had me grinding my teeth, it left me with the only practical option—I had to slug it out. The secret of mastering this mad-capped approach seemed to lie in establishing a ritual, so every night after work I turned on my computer, cleared some desk space, cleaned my room, made a hot chocolate, watched one episode of Buffy (sometimes one and a half episodes, sometimes two), sat back in front of my computer, checked the time, turned off my computer and went to bed feeling excited and assured that a good night’s sleep would result in the following evening being a mind-blowing success. GUESS WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN?!

After coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t immerse myself in my own work, I decided to make it my mission to become immersed in the Melbourne literary scene. Among other things, I attended the 2013 Reading Matters conference, a two-day professional development conference hosted by the State Library of Victoria and RMIT, which focused on ‘crucial and emerging issues and trends in youth literature’ (Want to find out more about the conference? Check out http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/event/reading-matters.). Two things resonated with me long after the conference finished. The first was my awkwardly pathetic conversation with Garth Nix. He asked me whether I was a teacher or a librarian. Searching for a response, I became what I can only describe as disconnected from myself; my critical self stood beside Nix and laughed silently as I tried to explain that I was a YA fiction writer, but that I hadn’t written anything in a while, well, a year, but that I really was a writer, but not a published author. After asking for my name, Garth told me it was great that I was a writer, he was looking to seeing my novel published in the near future, and that I should keep writing. He handed me my signed copy and I hurried away.

Look at it, isn't it glorious? Well, autograph, not my photography skills.

Look at it, isn’t it glorious? Well, the autograph, not my photography skills.

The second thing that struck a chord occurred during one of the Q&A’s. I can’t remember which panel it was, but, as per usual, an audience member asked the panellists how they dealt with writer’s block. One of the panellists made reference to the writer and depression, but said it was separate from writer’s block and the conversation moved on. I was not ready to move on.

I have endured bouts of depression and anxiety since my early teens. For most of my young adult life I assumed that was the way things were—I was and would forever be a paranoid pessimist whose mind was often flooded with so many layers of unending and undecipherable self-loathing thoughts that they became indecipherable, leaving me with nothing but a heavy numbness in my head. Writing allowed me to immerse myself in characters and stories far removed from my own reality. But, in 2010 my mother died and the grief process turned into a bleak and intensely paranoid state of being that endured long after the first anniversary of her death, and in the midst of it all my writing stopped. Completely. I assumed that I was experiencing grief that would pass at some point, but still made an appointment with my GP. She gently pointed out my family history of anxiety and depression (putting a name to what I previously assumed were aspects of my personality) and then she said something that blew my mind—‘you shouldn’t have to feel like this’. I saw a hypnotherapist, counsellor, psychologist and psychiatrist, all of whom helped me realise (well, maybe not the hypnotherapist) that what I had been experiencing all these years, even prior to my mother dying, was not, and did not have to be, a part of my personality. I learned to identify when I was on the verge of a high anxiety episode, or when I was falling into a state of depression. With their assistance, I put tools in place to combat negative thoughts with positive, rational self-talk. This doesn’t mean I always win. I am a work in progress. What it does mean, is that while depression and anxiety do not define who I am, I have accepted that depression and anxiety will always be a part of my life that I need to manage.

So, when the Reading Matters panellist brought up the writer and depression, separating it from writer’s block, I could do nothing but fantasise about racing up onto the stage, hugging the panellist and then shaking them until they validated my state of being by sharing their experiences of writing and depression (On 02 March, 2014, one of the most captivating and engaging panellists from the Reading Matters conference, Libba Bray, blogged about her ongoing battle with depression, which can be found at http://libbabray.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/miles-and-miles-of-no-mans-land/). As weird as this sounds, hearing a writer talking about depression, even though it was only a mere sound bite, was intensely rejuvenating. I walked away from the conference with a renewed sense of hope. Then I procrastinated for a few months. Then I took part in NANOWRIMO 2013 (every novelist should do this. Find out more, and sign up for 2014 at http://nanowrimo.org/), which was much more exhausting than I had prepared for, involved less wine than I expected, and resulted in a re-write of my YA manuscript that was more fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding than I could have imagined (it also included an insane number of typos and repetitions of phrases like ‘he scratched his head’ and ‘she sighed’, but shut up). More importantly, it was an opportunity for me to be part of the writing community. I shared tales of trials and triumphs with fellow co-workers who were taking part in NANOWRIMO, and I even dipped into discussions in online forums (I didn’t attend any of social events, but aim to work up to it this year). In February I attended The Rag and Bone Man Press ‘What a novel idea’ salon (find out more about their amazing publications at http://www.ragandboneman.org/), where I listened while an eclectic array of artists read their articles or novel excerpts to the group.

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Taking it all in at the ‘What a novel idea’ salon. Image reproduced with permission from The Rag and Bone Man Press.

It was inspiring being in a room with creative folks, but the thought of reading my own work was terrifying. Once I finished reading an excerpt from my YA manuscript I celebrated by making a quick exit and, after suppressing the urge to vomit on the train on the way home, met my husband at the train station and promptly burst into tears the second after he asked, ‘So, how was it?’

While not easy, getting actively involved in the writing community is the best thing I can do for my own writing and my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. Listening to artists talk about their hardships proved equally as inspiring to me as listening to them talk about their successes. Maybe I won’t ever be a published novelist, but I’ve benefited greatly from hearing the ups and downs of other writers, and I hope that blogging about my own journey as a writer fumbling through (and hopefully, at some point, thriving in) the Melbourne literary scene will help other like-minded artists (I promise my posts won’t all be as dreary as this!).

 

Anyone who is struggling with depression or an anxiety condition can talk to a trained professional at beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.