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Writers Festivals as Professional Development

August 12, 2009

Regardless of where you are on your path as a writer, attending a writers festival aught to be one of the priorities of your professional training. Surrounded by the friendly conversation of authors; with the feeling of inclusiveness and being part of a quiet social movement, is sure to delight the most stoic  writer. Writers Festivals  round the world offer a crash course to time poor folk  into the workings of the writing world and thus aught to be considered a vital piece within the jigsaw of your learning path.

One of the most difficult things to remember as a writer is that you are always a learner; else you find yourself in a rut or circular pattern and in a ‘comfortable’ spot. Professional development promises to push you out of these ruts and spots. Generally PD refers to skills and knowledge attained for both personal  and career advancement. These are often offered through a range of activities including workshops, retreats, online or face to face learning, coaching and mentoring.  I seriously include attendance to a festival as part of your professional development as it has the opportunity for:

  • individuals to upskill or take on new information
  • the industry to promote quality practice and encouragement of open discussion within advisory or focus groups.
  • promotion of both professional and social networks
  • individuals to test out or experience new technologies.
  • individuals to seek out mentors in a relaxed environment.
  • a new storyline be presented  through the conversations or observations an individual will invariably undertake.

Last weekend, I attended the Byron Bay Writers Festival and was amazed by the array of authors and events available, with a mix of information, promotional and common interest sessions throughout the days. The difficulty was choosing what to go to; without missing anything.( very difficult to achieve)  I am certain that the format it undertook is very similar to those around the world and briefly will describe for the festival virgins out there what one might entail.

Book launches offered festival participants the opportunity to meet the authors after they had conducted short readings or had spoken about the inspiration behind their work. Workshops held in either full or half day formats presented concentrated information similar to short courses within a more formal educational institution. Panels of authors were interviewed and gave participants the opportunity of an open mike to delve in more details on a specific subject area. Children’s sessions burst with laughter, fun and further insights as authors read snippets of their book, backed with large helpings of audience participation.

listeners of last words
Lining up to hear the speakers

There was a completely delightful visage of writers from dapper individuals bedecked in bowtie and hats in jaunty angles to those disheveled ‘deer caught in the headlamp stares’ as newly published authors; hard to fathom that their manuscript had caught the imagination of a publishing house, clambered onto stage to face hundreds of admiring fans. There were writers clutching manuscripts and businesses cards; desperate to network , promote their writing or to meet others who were either struggling or feeling elated with the progress of their work in progress. Although writers come in every imaginable shape and form, it would seem; at least from the thousands who attended this festival, that there are some distinct constants. The bloodstream it would appear, requires constant tipping up with caffeine; this judged by the four coffee outlets lengthy lines at any time of the day, and heaving crowds, standing patiently for their brew. Another vital prop was the pen attached permanently to their hand and the other either clutching or frantically searching for a dog eared notepad invariably labeled with the month or simply ‘ideas’.

There is a weariness as an overload of information settles on your brain and it came as a relief when some sessions were a light hearted discord between panelists. Any resentment I may have felt when I discovered that the session I was attending, was not a “how to” as I had expected, but an informative discussion, soon faded as the joy of simply being part of an interesting conversation ( albeit shared with several hundred others)

As part of your professional development, I’d urge you to attend a writers festival as it will expose you to those practicing the craft and to those weaving the art. For those who write as a pastime, for those who wishes it paid (either some or more) for those deeply involved or published already and for those who are dreaming of being a writer – participation and attendance to such events is vital to your professional growth. The heart of professional development is within your interest in lifelong learning and increasing your own skills and knowledge.

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Annie Evett has decided she makes a pretty crappy fan. Surrounded by authors she admires; with ample opportunity to strike up a conversation, plead for an autograph on a scrap of paper – or in the front of one of their new books, she chose instead to sit in the shadows up the back.  Catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
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