Writing Conferences And The Unknown

Fear Of The Unknown + Writing Conferences = Too Scary Box

“I’m not scared of anything except going to writing conferences!”

Not all that long ago, I could have worn a badge with those words plastered on it… not that I would have wanted to.

My tale is this: I used to be quietly, pretty frightened of conferences. All conferences. Any conferences. Especially writing conferences!

Not so much in the way that one might be jumpy about creepy crawling things; an irky, flat our terror but in a common way that I think probably affects other writers/humans as well.

It’s called ‘Fear of the Unknown’ (FOTU). Some of you may also know it.

Going to a conference or any ‘networking thing’ for that matter used to feel like this – please see paragraph below.

Scary-like Scenario: Writer goes to writing conference, writer knows no-one there. “This will never happen again,” vows the terrified writer. Makes excellent plan for future such occasions: next time a conference rolls around, shrink back to bed, pull over the covers and permit cat to jump up. Enter stage Netflix and ice-cream…

Ok, that’s a little bit exaggerated but that was how writing/literary conferences made me feel. My seemingly innate FOTO anxiety kicked in and, although a part of me wanted to go, I hardly ever did.

In truth, I believed conferences were only for people who ‘knew’ people there, i.e. an abundance of writerly buddies ready to form an unbreakable posse.

Or people who just happened to be ‘networking masters’… wonderful and rare kinds of people who happen to thrive in group interview scenarios; these people don’t even necessarily need name badges at events.

Fear of the Unknown
Photo credit: Tirza van Dijk

I’ve been pursuing writing in a serious way for about a decade – and the commitment level is growing all the time, though I don’t wear a ring on my fingers or a special necklace to signify this because I feel that would be weird, probably…

So, back in 2006 or 2007, I went to my first Melbourne Writers’ Festival! Oh, I felt very grown up about it – and much like a writer simply by going.

Though I can’t remember their names, the two writers at the seminar I attended were American novelists and just seemed like really nice people. They talked about writing as a career and I felt a hopeful sense along the lines of, “wow, people actually do this for a living – hope lives!!”

An afternoon session followed where a journo/writer relayed to a packed audience that he happened to get his best ideas in the middle of the night – 2am in the morning.  I remember that, because I’m also an ‘ideas-getterer’ in the wee small hours of the night (or morning)!

So, since this, I’ve tried to always have a pad of paper and pen by my bedside for this purpose – and I learnt it from this journo/writer at that very conference! Some might call that a ‘take away’… but I like my take aways vegetarian and gluten free because surely we are now talking about pizza, right?!

Digress on pizza paused until a more opportune time, and back to that FOTU thing…

Years passed and when program guides for awesome events like the Melbourne Writers’ Festival came out, I would study them fervently; circling way too many possible events in an intentional way. It was like circling them felt a step closer to going, somehow. Yet, I never really went, apart from that one time I went.

“I went once, back in 2006 or 2007,” such thoughts swirled around my head, justifying reasons to keep this status quo. Basically, no moves that would slightly accelerate my heart rate.

“I’ve done my ‘networking duties!'” said my thoughts, probably distracting myself with thoughts of pizza.

Let’s face it: that FOTU thing? It generally needs a lot of space.

Storyology 2014 – “I’m so glad I went!”

Then, last year I discovered the Storyology conference by the Walkley Foundation in Sydney. Stalking Checking out The Walkley Foundation’s website and I noticed there was a scholarship program going on to help writers attend! Whoo hoo! Flash forward some emails later and I was uber-thrilled to win a ticket to go to one of the days of this.

That day of Storyology was jam packed, full-on and even a little bit career changing.

SLIGHT TANGENT: I was going to say ‘life changing’ but ‘career changing’ seemed more appropriate – then again, where’s the line between career and life in this day and age?

As I walked down Oxford Street back to my hotel, I felt overwhelmingly enriched – and inspired – by the events that had transpired.

The speakers were amazing, content cutting edge and I returned to work with a zesty zing for my craft! Basically, I was on a writing ‘high’ – plus I was feeling affirmed in my love of story.

Yet, it was the people who I met that day who also stayed in my mind.  Kindred spirits of kinds; all rich in the storytelling gene.

There was the lovely journalist who worked in remote Queensland – we had a great chat.

Then I met an Australian writer who calls both Paris and New York home, as well as here. With a figurative foot in three continents, that was simply inspiring to just know! (Plus I’m an Aussie Francophile with a thing for New York, so that really resonated with me!!)

In a room full of editors, journalists and people who likely used the words “writer” on their business cards, I took from the cheese plate and drank mineral water with these awesome folk.

As I walked back to my hotel that night, a string of words were lit up in my mind and on the tip of my tongue, as I later excitedly conveyed to my husband, my mum and anyone who asked me how the conference was. 

“I’m so glad I went.”

The professional development bit I’d expected but it was all the people who made me feel cheerful inside. Encouraged in my craft. Hopeful for the future. Comforted to meet other people who can ‘relate’ – and are walking this journey too.

Freelance Focus – The Friendliest Place For A Freelancer To Be

Why Writers Should Go To Conferences

This year in the month of August, I got my conference-boots (or rather, triangles heeled mules shoes agonised over for that very purpose) on and scooted over to the Freelance Focus conference in Brisbane, also hosted by the Walkley Foundation.

Flashback to the previous month: I’d gotten wind that this conference was happening. This time, it was ALL about freelancing!!!!!!!! (Yes, plethora of exclamation marks necessary here – this was rad news indeed.)

Freelance business basics, a Twitter masterclass, tips from investigative reporters and a heap of amazing speakers (they could have marketed it as ‘the happiest place for Australian freelance writers for that particular day’), plus Noah Rosenberg, founder of Narratively.

Narratively is a US-based online magazine. Once I discovered it a couple of years ago, I felt  happy simply knowing that it existed.

It’s in publications like Narratively that longform journalism is flourishing; and the stories are standout.  There is room for ‘literary journalism’ and it’s not sidelined but showcased! (Literary journalism = ‘narrative journalism’, depending on where you’re from in the world.)

This is a wonderful genre of sharing non-fiction tales with all the fiction/storytelling devices ready and, at the table!

Noah Rosenberg, editor and founder of Narratively
Noah Rosenberg, editor and founder of Narratively

I was ‘geeking out’ (first time I’ve used that term in an article, now I’m self conscious!) at the thought of  going along to this. My heart beating quite fast as I imagined myself up there, soaking in storytelling wisdom in the Queensland sun.

(Plus, Victoria was very cold at the time and still is right now.)

Then I found out once again a beautiful thing in existence: there were ten scholarships to be awarded out for this. Thanks again to the power of obsessively visiting a website and reading everything on it, I found this out!

Quickly, I got my 250 word entry on and pressed ‘send’.

Confession: I think I may have squealed a little when I found out I was going!! Pressing ‘send’ turned out to be a good thing, after all.

The conference itself was sensational: insights and practical tips from writers I admire (and soon admired) as well as other media folk. Since that day, I’ve been regularly been revisiting my notebook, containing pages of  scrawly, code-like handwriting where I tried to capture just some of the brilliant things I heard that day.

TANGENT: Someone thought my normal handwriting was shorthand the other day! I take that as a compliment and advise other writers to also consider writing in code-like hieroglyphics unique to your taste: it’s a lot of fun and means others struggle to read/steal your ideas!

What I’ve learnt from this conference is still circling around in my mind … and I’ll likely chew on these little pearls gleaned for a long time.

The best thing, though? Once again: just the people there. A room full of freelancers; it was the friendliest place to be!

Here we were all in the same symbolic boat, ready and wanting to learn; professionally develop our brains and sip coffee with likeminded folk. Gosh, it was worth the plane ride up just for that!

So, I went home with more than just a pile of business cards and loads of inspiration but a generally optimistic outlook on conferences. This outlook has now solidified and the FOTU thing for conferences has quietened down a lot; I’ve given it a lot less space.

In its place is Embracing The Unknown (ETU if you like acronyms) when it comes to writing conferences and the like…which is a lot more fun!

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