Finding your tribe as a writer, or in any kind of creative endeavour, is an important thing to do. Being around other writers provides support and inspiration, and I think it’s a crucial thing to do. Writing can be a very solitary activity, and its no surprise to find that many writers suffer from depression. You try sitting on your own every day for six months of the year and see how it affects your mental health! Its important to get out.
Literary Festivals and author signings are a really good way to fill your well and get affirmation for your work. Maybe you won’t be able to present what you’ve written to other people, but being around those who are interested in the same things as you, undergoing similar challenges, really helps.
As a writer, you also need to gauge the market and be aware of your contemporaries’ work. Reading is an important thing to do, and if you really love writing, you will love reading just as much! Literary festivals give you a chance to be exposed to books you might never pick up otherwise, to hear authors speak about their work, and to ask questions about their writing process. Think about it – a huge reservoir of inspiration and knowledge out there, just waiting for you to tap into it. Why would you not?
Your local bookshop will probably have readings by authors scheduled, and these are worth attending because they are more intimate, and allow you more personal access.
Check the culture and review sections of newspapers, and the ads in writing magazines, as well as noticeboards in libraries, for details of the bigger events and festivals. Some music festivals are starting to have literary strands too, so keep your eyes peeled.
My nearest festival in the one at the University of East Anglia, but its slightly different from a three day or week-long event, in that it studs two university terms with readings by authors, playwrights, poets and journalists. This gives a wide variety of speakers over a six month period, and allows me to attend where I want, and to absorb what I learn over time. And because it is such a prestigious centre for creative writing, it attracts some seriously big names.
I have attended events with Arthur Miller, Jeanette Winterson, Rose Tremain, Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Iain Banks (need you ask!), Rachel Cusk, Alan Hollingshurst, Isabelle Allende, Richard E Grant and many others. I went under sufferance with a friend to see Ian McEwan, whose writing I hate, only to be utterly charmed and instantly determined to reread everything he has written. And I saw Doris Lessing the week after she had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was feisty, fascinating, and marvellous despite obviously being in terrible pain, and she tore the rather pompous interviewer to shreds, which was very satisfying. At the end she received a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation, and I actually found myself crying. You can’t find better inspiration than that!
Be warned, however. Sometimes your idols can prove to have clay feet. I went to see Graham Swift, whose books ‘Waterland’ and ‘Last Orders’ I had adored. He read so badly, and was so miserably boring, that I felt insulted enough to vow never to read another one of his books. And I haven’t.
Brett Easton Ellis was a writer whom I had worshipped since reading his work for my degree. I clamoured to get a ticket to see him. And now I can’t remember a thing about him, not even what he looked like, and certainly nothing of what he said.
I generally come away from these events feeling inspired and excited about doing new work, full of ideas and hope for the future. It can be a dangerous game, however. Be prepared, if you go to an author reading, to feel insignificant, and that you work is poor and will never be published. It happens sometimes, though less often the more you write, and it will pass.
The important thing, however, is to go. Attend events with even the least known authors, since they are often the ones who will inspire you the most. (And one day, you might be up there too, so it adds to your own karma to support other people!) Ask questions, and read the books. This will enrich your own work, as well as introducing you to writing you might never have experienced otherwise.
Challenge yourself. I don’t really do poetry, but went along with a poet friend of mine to see readings by several poets, and was enchanted. I’ll never be a poet, but this form has opened my mind to the possibilities of language, and I’m so grateful.
Finding your tribe, and being amongst other writers is important. It helps you feel part of a joint creative endeavour, but it also feeds your Muse. There is a whole world of wonderful written joy out there, and literary festivals area an easy way into it.