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Monday musings on Australian literature: Writer development programs

February 23, 2015

I’m not a writer – as regular readers here would know – so I only have an outsider’s understanding of how writers develop their skills. Here is what I know. First, of course, writers have to write – and write – and write. This is a pretty lonely business – and I suspect, often a frustrating one. They may need help developing their manuscript to completion, or they may not know how to navigate the publishing process,

But, they can receive help. There are creative writing courses in schools and universities. There are writers’ retreats (as I’ve written about before) where writers get to work on a project and sometimes receive advice while doing it. And there are targeted development programs. These are the ones I’m writing about today. They vary in length, format, funding arrangements, and who they target, but they all have one goal – to help writers succeed.

As usual, I’m just going to share a few to demonstrate the variety of offerings out there:

  • Gertrude Contemporary and ARTAND Australia Emerging Writers Program is a very specific program targeting “emerging visual arts writers” who want to “contribute to the critical discussion of Australian contemporary art”. It teams four writers with mentors to help them “develop their writing practice, publish their work and gain further insight into the field of contemporary art writing”. It was established in 2005 and they say it’s the longest-running program of its kind. (That’s a great achievement though I’m not sure what they define as their “kind”). (Melbourne, Victoria)HARDCOPY 2015 - Nonfiction Edition - open for applications
  • Hard Copy, run by the ACT Writers Centre, with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, targets “committed emerging writers”. It has several aims, writerly ones like helping them develop their manuscripts to completion, and practical ones like increasing their knowledge of the industry and their ability, if I read the aims correctly, to network. In 2015, Hard Copy is focusing on writers of non-fiction, and applications close on 13 March. (Canberra, ACT)
  • QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program is a program jointly run by the Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher Hachette. It has been running now for 7 years, and has resulted in the publication of books like Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows and Inga Simpson’s Mr Wigg. It’s a four-day program for 10 emerging fiction and non-fiction writers, and provides individual consultation with Hachette editors and the opportunity to meet “publishing industry professionals such as literary agents, booksellers and established authors”. (Brisbane, Qld)
  • SA Writers Inc Professional Development Program is, I think, typical of the programs run Australia’s state-based writer’s centres. The describe their professional development program as comprising “a wide variety of events, workshops and masterclasses”. If you click the link I’ve provided, you will see the calendar for the current month, showing that at the end of February there is a Masterclass in Creative Writing and a Spoken Word Workshop for Young People run by Omar Musa. (Adelaide, SA)
  • Varuna, The Writers House, like many writers retreat venues, offers a wide range of development opportunities to writers besides its residential program. They divide their non-residential or outreach program into two groups, Workshop and Events, and Writer Development Program. The former can include short-term courses like the Introduction to Life Writing Workshop presented by Patti Miller in 2014, while the latter provides writers with one-on-one consultations on their manuscripts. (Katoomba, NSW)

If you’re a writer, have you attended any professional development programs? Were they useful (and what made them so, if they were!)?

39 Comments leave one →
  1. Glen Hunting permalink
    February 24, 2015 12:55 am

    “…individual consultation with Machete editors…” Oh, I love it!!!!

    Thanks for the overview, Sue. Nice to get a few of these listed in one place. A friend of mine over here in the Hotel Sandgroper-fornia got into the Hard Copy program last year. It sounded highly intense and highly competitive, but also highly useful. I think she stopped just short of the final twenty (they go through review rounds where people get eliminated – rather like a cooking program) so I think she did pretty damn well for her manuscripts-in-progress…

    When I grow up, I want to be a Machete Editor. Cutting through cane fields of adverbs and redundancies. But first, I’ll have to curb my own propensity for verbosity…!!!

    • February 24, 2015 1:41 am

      Oh bum, Glen, it kept autocorrecting Hachette to Machete and I kept changing them but clearly one managed to autocorrect back without my noticing! Glad I gave you some amusement though. How interesting that one of your friends did part of Hard Copy last year. I don’t think I like the highly competitive part but I’m glad she found it highly useful, and I guess it means that more people get some opportunity rather than a small number getting a lot?

      BTW I was sorry that I didn’t have a WA or Tas example, but having found 5 geographically diverse programs, albeit all eastern-based except for Adelaide, I felt that was good enough!

      • Glen Hunting permalink
        February 24, 2015 1:53 am

        Well, two of our three writers centres fund residencies, which includes the opportunity for manuscript feedback and assessment but none of them do mentoring at present. I think FAWWA has done it in the past, but (as ever) it’s been subject to funding and everyone’s a bit cash-strapped over here at present. Our local publishers can’t manage it either (again, size and money constraints) and none of the ‘majors’ (Random House Penguin, Hachette et. al.) even have an office in Perth. The only local development programs I know of are for script writers, via the Australian Writers Guild (WA), Stages WA, and Black Swan Theatre Company. But if anyone can think of any programs that I’ve neglected, please do post here.

        • February 24, 2015 9:10 am

          Thanks Glen for all this. I guess one of those residency opportunities is the KSP one? I did notice that some publishers have “pitch” opportunities. I might right about them some day, but it sounds like there’s not much of that in the west.

      • Glen Hunting permalink
        February 24, 2015 1:55 am

        I never think of autocorrect, because I don’t have a device that does it. I always imagine that someone has just miraculously mistyped their own ‘howler’ into their text… 🙂

        • February 24, 2015 9:15 am

          Given the laugh it gave you, I rather wish I had done it purposefully! I can find autocorrect irritating, fun or useful, depending on each specific situation, something that’s good if I can control it. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems to have a life of its own. Or maybe I’m just not attending properly. Surely not!

  2. February 24, 2015 6:04 am

    A very nice variety of available programs for the beginner and the more experienced as well it seems.

    • February 24, 2015 9:17 am

      Yes, that’s what it looks like to me – emerging and more established writers all have options it seems (though maybe not always in the location they are!)

  3. February 24, 2015 6:11 am

    What a helpful and useful person you are, Sue ! – there must be lots of wannabes out there who benefit from this kind of thing. (I used to be a wannabe but now I know. :-\)

    • February 24, 2015 9:18 am

      Oh, I reckon you still could be o-venerable-one if you were suddenly inspired by something. You’ve proved you have the skill. You just need the inspiration to come.

      • February 24, 2015 10:15 am

        Somehow ah cain’t see that happenin. I’m not feeling sorry for myself; it’s just that I WOULD like to exercise the old bonce.

  4. February 24, 2015 9:03 am

    One of my friends did the ACT Hardcopy program last year, made it to the final 20 or whatever the whittled down number was, and last thing I heard had been offered representation by one of the agents who attended the final weekend. it was fiction last year, and NF this year, so seems like they alternate?

    I’m a workshop junkie, weaning myself off now that I’ve done so many of them, and did get shortlisted for one of the MS development programs in 2012 I think (a Varuna one I think?), but withdrew as I’d gotten an agent around the same time. I think these programs can be really good for the support of having peers and making friends with a common interest, the momentum and focus you can develop with your writing and perhaps finishing a longer manuscript, and what you can learn generally about publishing processes, if not necessarily for what tangible progress you might make with your writing craft. In some ways I think that kind of learning is best done/can only be done alone, with the hard work of writing and re-writing and learning how to self-edit.

    There is a WA ms development program, or writing residency, I can’t think of the name but will try to find and come back.

    • February 24, 2015 9:21 am

      Thanks Jenny. Yes, in my intro I intended to make that point about much of the actual writing having to be done, and worked out, by yourself. Like most things, I sensed that the most valuable aspects of these workshops etc was both the insider knowledge about how it all works, and the networking (for contacts and for plain old mutual support).

      I suspect the WA residency might be the Katherine Susannah Prichard place??

      • Glen Hunting permalink
        February 24, 2015 12:00 pm

        Both KSP and FAWWA do residencies, and the resident gives workshops and a limited amount of manuscript feedback and development as part of the deal.

        • February 24, 2015 12:12 pm

          Thanks Glen. Sounds like Varuna, except that Varuna also has an outreach program, as far as I can gather anyhow.

  5. February 24, 2015 9:15 am

    I’ve been to a couple at the Victorian Writers Centre, (Angela Goldsmith’s one about planning your novel was especially good) but I’d like to mention the online writers courses offered by the Sydney Writers Centre, (now rebadged as the Australian Writers Centre, which is a bit cheeky of them I think, Sydney ain’t Australia!!). I won a voucher to use for one of their courses when I won the Best Australian Blog comp in 2012, and although I never used it because it was just too hard to commit the time when I was still working, the courses looked great. They varied in length, there were all sorts of choices, and they had online mentors and so on. The online environment would be especially good for writers in remote locations, which – considering that some of the best debut authors I’ve read recently have hailed from outside the capitals – is really important in our great big beautiful country, eh?

    • February 24, 2015 11:59 am

      Haha Lisa … and nor is Victoria a Nation and yet claims to have the National Gallery of Victoria! Fortunately, we ACT people just let the states get on with it!

      But, seriously, thanks for mentioning the online courses. I do get the AWC emails, but don’t read every one. I remember now your winning that voucher. But yes, the online environment would be good for all our wonderful writers outside the big centres.

      Interestingly, when I googled for these programs the AWC didn’t come up.

      • February 24, 2015 1:29 pm

        Touché re the NGV, but to be fair, it was always called the NGV, right from its inception in 1861.
        I think it would break Victorians’ hearts to rename it, it would be like trying to rename the MCG or the Gabba. (They’ve tried to rename our airport, but we all still call it Tullamarine). And from a tourist’s PoV, the NGV is the one to visit, though I do like the gallery in Canberra too. (Actually, I like all galleries everywhere, just about).
        That is interesting re the Google Search – it shows the value of you getting a list together like this *smile*

        • Glen Hunting permalink
          February 24, 2015 1:33 pm

          How did those loud and proud Geelong people allow Kardinya Park to be renamed Shell Stadium? How did we Sandgropers allow Subiaco Oval to become Patterson’s Stadium? And I say this as one who is utterly uninterested in football…

        • February 24, 2015 1:46 pm

          I’ve no idea, Glen. Corporate sponsorship, I suppose. God forbid that the NGV ever has to sink so low!

  6. February 24, 2015 12:58 pm

    You really HAVE to read Gert Loveday’s Writing is Easy to get the full workshop experience.

    • February 24, 2015 3:05 pm

      Well, I’ve bought it on the Kindle now – but when I’ll get to read it is another matter. I have another book recommended by you waiting in the wings as you very well know!

  7. February 24, 2015 3:15 pm

    Still Lisa … it was cheeky then wasn’t it? We weren’t federated then, but neither was the nation called Victoria. Victoria was a colony. It has always struck me as strange, but I suppose it was aspirational. (BTW Thanks for the link to Wikipedia, I’ve embedded it in your comment)

  8. February 24, 2015 3:55 pm

    I agree with Guy re ‘Writing is Easy’. I still laugh aloud over scenes in that book.
    And can i put in a plug for all the development programs run by the ASA? Every year members receive a printed leaflet (23 pages this year) full of seminars, workshops and on-line sessions. Some of them you pay for (over and above your membership), but some are free, and they have a regular on-line chat room run by knowledgeable people. Nowadays when writers have to be on top of not only writing skills, but marketing and the latest digital developments, I couldn’t do without the ASA.

    • February 24, 2015 11:31 pm

      Thanks Dorothy, that’s putting the pressure on!

      And yes, you can of course put in a plug for the ASA – the more the better. Thanks for giving you perspective on areas, particularly new ones, that writers might need development in.

  9. February 25, 2015 7:58 am

    No pressure intended…

    • February 25, 2015 9:17 am

      Thanks Dorothy! But with you and Guy recommending it, I’d love to find time for it, wouldn’t I?!

  10. February 25, 2015 5:38 pm

    Really interesting information…not currently a writer but maybe. Hadn’t really thought about how to start and these all seem like great offerings even if you don’t take the path in the end. Thanks for sharing.

    • February 25, 2015 5:46 pm

      Thanks Laura. I’m glad you found it interesting – and potentially useful in the future. I like the sound of that “maybe”!

  11. February 26, 2015 1:41 pm

    You asked for our own experiences, so here goes: I used to love a writing workshop. Loved the content, the networking, the time away from small children. Loved them to death, in fact, because now I don’t love them so much. With a few marvellous exceptions (a Helen Garner masterclass, for example) I now prefer to spend my time actually writing. I was put off, I think, by the very variable quality of the workshop leaders. The best writers are not necessarily the best teachers but you can’t really know until afterwards. But I guess I needed those earlier workshops to make me feel like a proper writer (no, I don’t know what that means either) and to point me in the right direction.

    In 2013 I was lucky enough to win two weeks’ writing time at Varuna – no workshops, just writing time – and it was sheer bliss. And, at risk of revealing my mercenary leanings, I’ll confess I find the competitive programs appealing because if I win a place I can list them on my writing CV, which in turn helps to win places in future programs. Such wins may also bolster my chances of publication, I suppose. Really though, it’s all about writing and writing and writing, isn’t it?

    • February 26, 2015 11:17 pm

      I did ask for experiences Michelle, and love that you and others have taken me at my word. Hopefully it will help other would-be or emerging writers who come along here.

      Everything you say makes sense. Part of it is where you are in you writing career – what you might need, how confident you are, etc, isn’t it? And then there is always that issue of quality of the teacher. My daughter, who has only been to one other seminar I think, went to one here run by Benjamin Law and she loved it. From what she said it sounded like he was a natural – good communicator, and a good program with a lot of hands on.

      I’ve heard such good things about Varuna. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with being mercenary. No-one is going to help you survive as well as yourself eh!

  12. March 3, 2015 6:49 pm

    I’ve applied for a few, without success. I did do a PhD in writing though, and gained an enormous amount through that.

    • March 3, 2015 9:51 pm

      Thanks Annabel … I can’t help thinking, though it’s probably not very encouraging, that there’s a lot of luck re timing in all this. And I don’t mean by this to downplay all the hard work that precedes this “luck”. I hope that makes sense … It’s just that you hear of so many authors who are rejected a lot of times then are suddenly “discovered” that you wonder how many other great works are never discovered.

      • March 4, 2015 2:05 pm

        I think you’re absolutely right on that. It can depend so much who’s on the panel for that round, and their particular taste, as well as the other field of entrants, which changes all the time. You do your best work but there are lots of factors you can’t control. I’ve been very lucky in other ways so I can’t complain. Though of course, rejection is always hard.

        • March 6, 2015 3:04 pm

          Yes, I know it is … no matter what it is that we’re rejected for – a grant, a job, a love! Good for us though, I’ve been told!

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