Writing Applications: HARDCOPY 2014 feedback that may help your literary applications

‘Every success I’ve ever had has come wrapped in a gift-box of failure.’ – The Failurist: Marcus Zusak, TEDx Sydney

Growing up, ‘pass the parcel’ was my favourite party game. I don’t ever remember winning it. Maybe I was too busy, crying into the sleeve of my Rainbow Bright t-shirt as another child tore a layer of newspaper away to reveal a tantalising mini Milky Way bar, to learn from failure and form a complex strategy in anticipation of the ever-shrinking parcel coming my way. But, I’ve changed since then. For one thing, my Rainbow Bright t-shirt doesn’t fit me any more. Secondly, I’m determined to learn from failure, rather than wallow in it.

Earlier this year I applied for the 2014 Fiction Edition of Hardcopy, a professional development program run by ACT Writers Centre and funded by the Australia Council. My application was unsuccessful. I could go into more detail about what the PD involves, but that will most likely result in wallowing, and you didn’t come here to get a mental picture as to what my ugly cry looks like, so click here to find out more. Aaaaanyway, I’m going to share with you the general feedback provided to unsuccessful round 1 applicants. I hope this proves helpful with your own work.

The Expression of Interest

    • Closely follow the application instructions, e.g. if you are asked for all materials to be submitted in 12-point Times New Roman, make sure that’s what you submit
    • Your writing skills are on display through all elements of your application – email correspondence, the expression of interest, the manuscript itself
    • Don’t be overly conversational – writing (and publishing) is a serious business
    • eliminate all spelling and typographical errors
    • in terms of describing your work or your work in progress, keep to the facts – we don’t need to know about your personal life (unless you think it is absolutely essential to your application and/or manuscript)
    • in terms of your biographical statement, make sure all the key details are included, e.g. publishing history, award, residencies, courses completed, mentorships – in general, showing that you’ve been steadily working away at your writing is a good thing
    • don’t use any kind of clip-art in an effort to enhance your application – we’re only interested in your skills with words
    • don’t try to be clever, e.g. don’t refer to yourself in the third-person
    • don’t talk yourself up, don’t talk yourself down – just keep all elements of your writing clear and succinct
    • your synopsis – is it coherent and engaging, would it engage an agent/publisher, who is likely to be extremely busy?
    • ask a trusted colleague to read a draft of your application – was everything easily understood?
    • double check your application before submitting – have you provided all that’s requested?
    • overall, be patient with your development as a writer – it can take years, if not decades to achieve your goals, especially in terms of writing fiction
    • you may wish to engage with your local writers centre and attend workshops and master-classes, or seek an assessment of your manuscript

The manuscripts that were judged successful had:

    • a clear and coherent narrative
    • interesting characters that came alive on the page
    • an engaging story that started in the right place
    • a hook – conflict and/or tension – in the early pages to entice readers
    • a strong voice (the ’emotional colour’ of the work)
    • evidence of writing craft – a fine choice of words and an understanding of sentence structure/development
    • excellent grammar and punctuation
    • consistency of point of view and tense
    • evidence of the writer taking care with their work
    • a good sense of the project and evidence of the writer having a close connection to the project
    • an avoidance of cliché
    • originality
    • please note: this feedback is intended as a guide. There are endless ways to write and be published. 

Acknowledgements

The ACT Writers Centre is supported by the ACT Government. HARDCOPY has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

 

HARDCOPY Feedback to round 1 applications’ reproduced with permission from ACT Writers Centre.

 

‘When others around us rise up, we rise up.’ Lessons learnt and inspiration gained from The Emerging Writers’ Festival

 

‘It’s easier to write a bad first draft and make it better than to face a blank page.’  Krissy Kneen, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

Getting retrenched from my job could have been a soul-destroying experience, but instead I viewed it as an opportunity to become active in the Melbourne literary scene again. I joined Twitter. I started a blog. I got tickets for some of the free Emerging Writers’ Festival events. A friend recommended I answer the call-out for the EWF blogging partners. I was only new to the blogging scene, but I applied anyway. I’m sure the EWF crew would have known a bunch of bloggers who they could have called upon to write blogs for the festival, but they took a chance on me, and I’m thankful.

‘You’re only going to do better if you write.’  Martin McKenzie-Murray, Emerging Q&A

The Opening Night Extravaganza blew my mind. Maxine Beneba Clarke told everyone that it took her 7-10 years to write Foreign Soil, Miles Allinson revealed that it took him 6 years to write his manuscript, and The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, paid tribute to the ‘agonising endeavour of writing’. The fact that it took years for these authors to finish their work wasn’t surprising. That they were open and honest about it was. Some writers may have found these sentiments confronting, but it gave me a sense of relief. The Emerging Writers’ Festival completely dispelled the notion of the effortless ‘overnight success’. These writers work hard.

‘The only way you can surprise a reader is to surprise yourself.’ – Alec Patric, The Art of the Short Story

It was inspiring to watch the ‘You Are Here’ panel, as audience members flung their hands up and took to the stage to praise the ‘beautiful love-in’ environment of the festival, share the grief of letting go of a manuscript, celebrate the success of being the ‘pick of the week’ in The Age, or give a shout-out to their literary crushes. Before I had the chance to assemble the eleventy-million dot-points as to why it wasn’t a good idea, I took to the stage to be part of the last panel. My introduction as one of the four blogging partners was met with loud cheers from the ridiculously supportive audience. So, what did I do to capitalise on this rare opportunity? I announced that I had an intense fear of public speaking.

‘Write from the soul.’ – Hannah Kent, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

I returned to my seat and shakily packed my things. I looked up to see someone approach me. She introduced herself as Meghan Brewster, one of the official blogging partners. It was really nice to meet her. We bumped into each other again at the Emerging Q&A session, and headed to Night of the Living Novellas together. It was just as inspiring to talk with other emerging artists, as it was to listen to the panellists. It was pretty amazing to be in the same room as other emerging artists.

‘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.’ – Sam Twyford-Moore, Opening Night Extravaganza

I learned a lot from The Emerging Writers’ Festival. I am more determined to get my novel-length manuscript where I want it to be, but this time I will make a point to celebrate the achievements at the end of each day, and to accept the difficulties as part of, rather than an inhibitor of, the process. I spent breaks in between panels jotting down (somewhat illegible) notes of short story ideas. Sam Twyford-Moore passionately conveyed the importance of The Emerging Writers’ Festival as an event for emerging writers ‘at a point when they are likely to give up, to stop them from giving up’.

When others around us rise up, we rise up.’  Maxine Beneba Clarke, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

I’m not giving up. I have the EWF crew and my fellow emerging artists to thank for that.

Emerging Writers’ Festival Highlights – Emerging Q&A

Dion Kagan, Celeste Liddle, Bhakthi Puvanethiran, Abe Nouk and Martin McKenzie-Murray

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 KaganCeleste LiddleMartin 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.

 

Emerging Writers’ Festival Highlights – ‘Me-Me-Me + My Memoir’

‘A very weird thing happened when I wrote this book – I forgot that anybody would read it.’ – Liam Pieper

Memoir is not a comprehensive story of a life, but a collection of memories that have had a significant impact on the writer. So, how does one go about crafting a memoir? As part of the National Writers’ Conference at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Benjamin Law sat down with Liam Pieper, Luke Ryan and Lorelei Vashti to chat about crafting and publishing their memoirs, The Feelgood Hit of the YearA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo and Dress Memory. Here are a few highlights from the session.

How do you frame a memoir?

Liam describes his book as ‘a family trying to survive my adventures’. Liam found crafting his memoir was akin to looking at a magic eye trick – ‘you stare at it long enough and see the thread’.

Lorelei’s stories came from the dresses she picked. She found the process easy, ‘because I carry these memories with me every day’. Each garment triggered flashes of powerful and emotional memories of her life.

Did Luke feel it was inevitable that he’d write about cancer?

‘Say what you will about cancer, but it offers a very clear editorial structure’, Luke joked. After handing his manuscript in to his editor, he received feedback that the manuscript needed ‘more cancer’. He responded by including ‘way too much cancer’ in the second draft. The editorial process helped Luke come to terms with ‘the fact that this is the story I have to tell’. He grew to appreciate the universality of his story, that ‘so much of your life is common’ that other people can relate to.

How did you get a book deal?

Lorelei originally wrote one short story every Friday for six months on her blog, Dress Memory. Her blog caught the attention of her publisher.

Liam described securing a publishing deal with Penguin as ‘an accident’. He went to the launch of Penguin Specials and met the editor.

The Lifted Brow asked Luke to write a non-fiction article. He later featured the article on his blog. This caught the attention of his publisher.

As much as memoirs are about ourselves, they involve respecting other people as well. What are the ground rules for writing a memoir?

Luke wanted to use the real names of people from his childhood. In the end, he only changed the names of two people, both of whom were sexual encounters.

All of names of people were changed by the final draft of Liam’s memoir, except for three. Penguin did a legal check prior to publication. However, Fairfax requested additional clearance before publishing an excerpt. Liam had to get a note from his mother that confirmed she smoked marijuana.

Lorelei described the process as ‘mental gymnastics’. She respected the fact that ‘these people didn’t ask to be in a book’. Lorelei was so concerned with ensuring the privacy of people in her memoir was respected, that she even changed the door colour of a share-house.

What was most difficult about writing a memoir?

Luke said ‘finding the angle that will resonate with people beyond you is very hard’. It has been two years since he first signed the publishing contract.

Lorelei thought it would only take six months to write her memoir, but in the end it took three years. She said ‘the structure was all important’. Once the structure clicked, after two years, the writing flowed. She urged anyone in the midst of writing their memoir not to be hard on themselves.

Liam found the biggest challenge was to not be boring. ‘Everyone will feel lonely or lost – the trick is to find the universal in the idiosyncratic experience’.

Did you find writing your memoirs difficult, or was it therapeutic?

Luke had already been telling his story on stage as part of his stand-up comedy routines. He found writing was a way of taking control of the narrative.

Liam found the research therapeutic, as he had difficult conversations with people from his past.

Lorelei found framing past relationships in a way that tells the story, even if it wasn’t the full story, difficult.

Effective Online Marketing for Writers – Highlights from Digital Writers’ Masterclass

Connor and Nathan listen as Anne gets all excited about vertical marketing

Connor Tomas O’Brien sat down with Nathan Farrugia and Anne Treasure to chat about effective online marketing for writers, as part of the Digital Writers’ Masterclass session, ‘Vertical Marketing, Online Presence, and Dino-Erotica’.

Anne, former Digital Marketing Executive at Momentum, spoke about how writers can achieve vertical marketing (i.e. marketing to a particular niche). She suggested writers can best market themselves by identifying a community of interest to write into, listing Goodreads and Readsocial as examples of vibrant global literary communities. Anne urged writers to maintain an active presence on social media, and ensure they use a consistent voice across all the various platforms. Anne created a slideshow about vertical marketing, which can be found here.

Nathan is a bestselling techno-thriller author who signed with Momentum after (to quote from his EWF bio) ‘inadvertently stalking his publisher on Twitter’. Nathan believes readers will judge the professionalism and quality your work by the appearance of your website. He said writers need to ask themselves the following two questions when setting up a website and/or blog:

Who are you? 

What are you writing (what is your content)?

Nathan recommended keeping your website photo-centric, clean and uncluttered. He urged writers to carefully consider what appears ‘above the fold’ (before you scroll down your webpage). He listed Chris Allen and Matthew Riley as authors who have effective websites. He also noted that blogs can be just as effective as websites, listing the website of Momentum author Kylie Scott as an example of a strong and clear self-marketer. Nathan created a slideshow to illustrate effective author websites, which can find the slide show here.

Emerging Writers’ Festival Highlights: ‘The Art of the Short Story’

Readings St Kilda

Readings St Kilda (side note: I did a double-take when walking past the guy on the right, because of his striking resemblance to Aus music royalty, Tim Rogers.)

It was standing room only in the function area of St. Kilda Readings, as Jason Steger, literary editor of The Age and commentator on First Tuesday Book Club sat down with Alec Patric (aka A.S. Patric) and Chris Somerville to chat about the art of the short story.

Why write short stories?

Alec originally started writing novels. He shopped a novel-length manuscript, which was seven years in the making, around to various publishers but he lacked the literary CV needed to garner interest. He initially wrote short stories to boost his CV, but quickly fell in love with the form, admiring the density and virtuosity.

Self-effacing, Chris noted ‘I never really had much of an attention span’.  His interest is rooted in the voice. Chris prefers short stories over novel-length works, because short stories have fewer events than novels, meaning the few events can be explored in greater detail in a short story.

Crafting a story: do you know the ending before you start?

While acknowledging that some writers need a blueprint, Alec believes it is better not to know the ending. He believes ‘epiphanies should happen on the page’ and ‘the only way you can surprise a reader is to surprise yourself’.

Chris planned a story once, and it kept going for 11,000 words. He said, ‘I once gave it to my mother—she’s an editor—and she just wrote “no” on it’.

What’s the right length of a short story?

Chris was quick to answer, ‘when it ends’, before clarifying, ‘there has to be some kind of character development, otherwise it can’t end’.

Alec said ‘the beauty of short stories is they can be any length’, but noted that 3,000 words is the standard in Australia.

When you write a short story, is it the voice that drives you?

Chris believes two main elements are required – a voice and something at stake. ‘There needs to be tension, or narrative drive, to pull it along’. Describing his own work to illustrate his point, Chris said ‘usually it’s just awkward young men … feeling awkward’.

Alec, you’re interested more in experimentation?

Alec spent 7 years working on a novel. Once he started writing short stories he realised how liberating they could be. He is excited by the possibilities, of trying different things (one of his stories is filled with unattributed dialogue). Alec stressed the importance of allowing ‘yourself to be free with possibilities’.

How important is character?

Chris noted ‘character occurs to plot, and plot pushes character’. He said ‘plot only happens because characters push them forward’.

Who do you admire?

As a teenager, Chris admired Raymond Carver for portraying ‘normal people … just having thoughts’. He cites George Saunders as infectious, and also listed Dennis Johnson, author of Jesus’ Son.

Alec listed John Updike and Ernest Hemingway, amongst others.

Chris and Alec both acknowledged the American-ness of their selections. Alec suggested this was in part due to the rural mentality of Australian publishers, where publishing interest seems to be restricted to beaches or cattle. Alec believes ‘the American experience isn’t western’, and the ‘American pallet is wide open’.

Audience question: How do you choose what goes into a collection?

Chris quipped ‘start strong, worst last and the middle doesn’t matter’.

Alec added ‘it’s often in the hands of the publisher’.

Audience question: Are short story collections and music albums comparable?

Alec believes short stories aren’t really meant to be read in isolation, that there is an arc of movement from one story to the next.

Audience question: Is it dangerous to have an arc in place for a collection?

Alec recommended going with whatever liberates you. ‘If overarching themes for a collection limits you, then forget it’.

Audience question: If you get to your death bed without publishing a novel, will you regret it?

Alec offered a diplomatic answer, saying ‘there’s a legitimacy now (to short story) that perhaps there wasn’t in the past’.

‘I never imagined my deathbed’, Chris dead-panned.

EWF14 Freebie Highlights: ‘Festival Icebreakers’, ‘Highbrow Versus Lowbrow’ and ‘No Lights, No Literature’

The Emerging Writers’ Festival truly looks after emerging writers (including income-deficient writers such as this humble blogger), to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. On Wednesday night I headed to Thousand Pound Bend to check out a few free events.

Mary got everyone mingling at the ‘Festival Icebreaker’.

Festival Icebreaker With Our Mates Mary

First up was the launch of  issue 5 of Mary. Guests were given part of an idiom or opening sentence of a novel when they entered the venue and were tasked with finding their other half. I raced about the room, meeting fellow festival attendees while calling out for “and the clocks were striking thirteen”. I didn’t have any luck locating my other half, but was thoroughly entertained as Hannah Cartmel, Managing Editor and co-founder of The Rag and Bone Man Press ran around asking for “two in the bush”, while I tried (and failed) to keep a straight face as another festival attendee politely asked, “excuse me, are you the fire of my loins?” In between all the running around, talented Issue 5 contributors read their pieces to the crowd. The Mary launch operated in the true spirit of the festival, encouraging emerging artists to mingle (which was no mean feat for this painfully shy blogger) while also giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their talents as writers and public performers.

KYD goody bag!

KYD goody bag!

Kill Your Darlings: Highbrow Versus Lowbrow

The crowd was well and truly revved up by the end of Mary launch, and the fun kept coming with the cultural debate, ‘Highbrow Versus Lowbrow’. I can forgive the Kill Your Darlings crew (just!) for getting ‘Call Me Maybe’ stuck in my head for the entirety of the following day, as the hilarious tongue-in-cheek debate included such gems as “without pop music none of us would be capable of finding somebody to love”. I picked up a copy of their current issue, which came with bonus back issues. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for the full event, but the debate team have since posted their arguments on the KYD blog.

Photography and tweeting weren't allowed at this event, which, as it turns out, wasn't as dark as my pre-event handbag shot predicted!

Photography and tweeting weren’t allowed at ‘No Lights, No Literature’, which, as it turns out, wasn’t as dark as my pre-event handbag shot predicted!

No Lights, No Literature

I was super excited about attending ‘No Lights, No Literature’, as I was eager to see how my appreciation of a performance would differ with sensory deprivation heightening my imagination and hearing. I must admit, I expected the audience would be completely in the dark, along with the panellists, but this was not the case. I’m going to take a stab in the dark (AH, PUN!) and assume complete darkness was not possible due to OH&S reasons. Instead, the audience sat in a dimly lit room, facing a big black curtain that shielded the anonymous panellists from view, and listened as the panellists mused about the Australian literary landscape (in keeping with the intimacy of the event, I won’t reveal any specifics of the topics discussed). It would have been hard being a panellist, as the audience were honed in on their voices, so any silent contemplation (and I’m talking 2-5 seconds, if that!) was deafening. However, it also meant that any passionately conveyed discussions were significantly more profound. I imagine the session would have been challenging for the panellists, given they could not gauge audience reaction (also, the panellists couldn’t see one another, so that would have been a challenge in itself). I really hope another version of this event is held at the 2015 festival, with public performances of creative works, as it would be really cool to see how appreciation of performance art, particularly experimental works, could be enhanced by sensory deprivation.