What are the moral responsibilities of writers? Should they self-promote on social media? How do you know if you’re any good at writing? Chaired by Bhakthi Puvanethiran, the Emerging Writers’ Festival Emerging Q&A panel, which included Dion Kagan, Celeste Liddle, Martin McKenzie-Murray and Abe Nouk, answered all the questions thrown at them by the audience. Here are a few highlights.
What are your thoughts on ‘trigger warnings’?
Indigenous politics and women’s rights forms the basis of Celestes’ work. She started her website in order to create a safe space for people to share their trauma. Celeste believes trigger warnings can end up silencing these people.
Dion believes trigger warnings can be stifling, and that confrontational narratives and images are part of the discourse.
Martin says he writes about sensitive issues as eloquently and truthfully as possible. He believes trigger warnings conflate writing with political advocacy.
How do you deal with the pressure to earn an income as a writer, while growing your craft?
Martin believes writing is not capital intensive. ‘If you have the desire, you’ll do it’. Martin rattled off jobs he has taken to supplement his income, including McDonald’s, back-packers and the Premiers Office. He said, ‘I wrote all the time and I improved all the time’. It took him at least 10 years to hone his skills.
Celeste was picked up by Fairfax 6 weeks after starting her blog. She still doesn’t know where she will end up, but this is all part of growing as a writer.
Abe urged everyone to keep writing and nurturing their craft. ‘Writing will eventually reward you’.
What do you wish Australian writers would stop doing?
Dion wishes writers would stop writing opinion pieces where they present themselves as editorial in knee-jerk positions.
Martin prefaced his response by saying no one should not do anything – ‘you’re only going to do better if you write’. He dislikes ‘cookie cutter columns’ and believes there is an aggregate fixated on pop culture. He urged writers to ‘write something a little more deeply than what’s on HBO this week’.
Abe believes artists can be caught up with trying to have a perfect voice. He said ‘do your sanity justice. Do your life justice. Be you’ and accept that imperfections make your story.
Celeste wished writers would stop being concerned with self-preservation. ‘Don’t feel you have to be answerable to everyone for everything you write’.
Bhakthi pointed out that it took Miles Allinson, winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, 6-7 years to complete his manuscript. ‘There’s nothing wrong with crafting’.
Would you still write if you knew no one would ever read your work?
Abe said he comes from a tribe where stories are recited verbally. He believes ‘when you write, you’ve written into infinity’.
For Dion, writing is about having a conversation, so he writes with the intent to be read.
Martin finds writing to be a ‘deeply infallible compulsion’.
Celeste wants people to read her blog. She wants to claim a space for feminist indigenous thought.
Should social media play a major part in emerging authors? Is there more of an onus on the writer to promote themselves?
Abe believes blogs allows readers to get a sense of who the writer is and what the writer likes. All writers should ask themselves who they write for, so they can clearly communicate their message.
Martin feels pressure to self-promote. He only created a blog and joined Twitter two years ago. In online publishing, content is king. Martin urged writers to practice and refine their writing – ‘you’ll find an audience if you’re good’.
Dion warned writers against getting lost in the vortex of social media and self-promotion, and to put their work first.
How do you know if you’re getting better?
Martin said ‘if you read a lot, you’ll internalise the rhythms that work’.
Celeste knew she was getting better when indigenous women who read her blog started to write and get their opinions out there.
Dion proclaimed that he is deeply stuck in the prestige of performance. He lives and breathes for the praise of other people. He knows he’s getting better when he makes readers feel something. He said the ‘cringe test’ is also a good indicator.