Sunday, May 22, 2011

AWRF: Claire's Wordy Day Out

‘Writers are weird people with weird interests,’ says Cassandra Clare at the beginning of her session at AWRF Wordy Day Out. Later Garth Nix and Sean Williams argued that, ‘writers are a socially acceptable level of bonkers’. In conversation with interviewer Paula Morris, Meg Rosoff explained that she and fellow writer, Margo Lanagan were ‘dark people’, and she added in jest a little later in their session, that in fact, ‘writers are magic unicorns’. As I walked out of the auditorium at the end of the day blinking, my brain whirring happily, it seemed to me that writers are actually very nice people.

Like many people who attend these festivals, I was eager to grab all the writing advice these super successful writers were willing to share. In a tough and competitive market, I was cheered to find them all exceedingly generous with their knowledge. Garth Nix and Sean Williams, terrifically prolific fantasy writers, implored the crowd (who frequently broke into spontaneous applause) to ‘write what you love’ and, following their example, ‘be too dumb to give up’. Garth originally wrote his novels in small black and red notebooks, while Sean started writing on typewriters(!). They talked about the unique challenges that co-writing a novel presents – choosing the right co-writer seems to be key to success!

I have shelved enough Cassandra Clare to know that her urban fantasy books are super-popular, but I was staggered to see the huge crowd she drew. She spoke at length about her processes while dozens of girls scribbled notes. She is a ‘micro-planner’. Before she writes, she and a crack team of friends brainstorm and construct her plots in such detail so that her actual writing process is very very fast. She gave a great piece of advice about the usefulness of writer’s block. If you can’t keep writing there is something wrong with your piece. Stop and work out what is wrong before you keep trying to push through with something that isn’t working.

Margo Lanagan, a model of diligence, writes 10 pages a day. She starts in the morning and those pages may be finished in time for lunch, or she might struggle with them all day. At the end of the month, she can’t tell which piece of writing came from which kind of day.

Paula Morris suggests emptying out you purse and studying the contents as an exercise to develop character. What does what you have, what you carry around with you, say about you as a person?

What really came across was that these writers, though they are weird, magical unicorns with odd and dangerous imaginations, are brilliant, focussed, passionate people consumed with questions about life, death and the universe, who work very hard (see Meg Rosoff’s brutal visual representation of that here)and love every minute of their jobs.

- Claire

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