Emerging Writers Festival – a wrap up

By Vanessa Jones

This year I really had no excuse not to go to the 10th Emerging Writers Festival at the end of May. I was invited to be part of a panel, my Adelaide and Melbourne writing buddies would be there and I could go to represent the SA Writers Centre. So far, this has been one of my favourite professional adventures. EWF_Web_Banner-fixed

So what were the highlights?

Those Randoms in the Green Shirts: The way the staff made everyone feel inclusive, and tirelessly worked away but didn’t let it show on their faces. They made the time to stop for a cheeky chat, hand over a homemade mulled wine, whilst simultaneously cleaning up coffee spills, preparing speeches and fixing lighting.

Audience Questions: Arts festivals, particularly literary ones, have this unparalleled ability to bring out the most cringe worthy audience questions. Often, not questions but extensive diatribes on their self published historic memoir on the romantic life of their ancestor’s cat.  A parody Twitter account, @writersfestquestions, is a testimony to this phenomenon. It’s truly a testament to the EWF that they attracted such a high calibre crowd that almost every single question was well thought out, profound, wise, sensitive to the audience around them and drew out information from the speakers that really did add to the quality of Festival.

The was only one time that I felt the need to physically cringe, ‘I don’t use Twitter but I have a comment about it.’ Much to the credit of the succinct panel chair, he cut this person off immediately and requested she get straight to the question, which was ultimately thought provoking.

My Tribe: I felt an instant sense of camaraderie with my writing peers flanked either side of me in their heavy knitted scarves and their hashtag-happy fingers. And it was also about the in between stuff, the conversations that were had between panels – what people are writing, their processes, sharing similar fears and insecurities and advice from people who are in the same place as me and from those who are not.

I Found Jesus: It might sound trite to say that it was a spiritual experience but it literally was. On Saturday 1st June, I attended back to back sessions of yoga and meditation and creativity (I discuss the meditation workshop in depth in a future post). The combination of the festival, being in the sacred environment of a former convent and these philosophical workshops encouraged an opening and enlightening experience for me. The energy and inner motivation (or creative fire, in yoga it’s called Shakti), was burning strong inside me.

What I took away from the festival:

The Burn: A burning motivation to write, the reminder that writing is important, that it counts and that I was born to do it. I also came away with a renewed motivation to want to inspire others around me and some infant ideas of what I can bring back to South Australia for my writing peers there.

I took back the knowledge about health in writing is vital. And that I must invest as much time and effort into these areas of my life as I do in writing as this is part of writing.

State of Mind: I learnt what was happening in other states and that South Australia is not the only state with ‘Melbourne envy’, surprisingly even Sydney suffers from it. We, as a state, are very fortunate in the opportunities and accessibility we have. Tasmania and Northern Territory have no undergrad writing courses and mentoring is hard to come by in Tasmania.

Here are some quotes from panel members during the Festival that really struck something in me that have altered me. I’ve previously tweeted them.

‘Health care professionals who understand the creative lifestyle are vital,’ Kharani “Okka” Barokka.

‘It’s important to find a way not to feel isolated when you’re writing about difficult things,’ Okka.

‘Tapping into our creative souls can bring danger and rewards. Such a sensitive process,’ Jill Stark.

‘Everyone has a different thing that saves them. Find that thing,’ Joel Deane.

‘If I don’t write, I literally go crazy. So I get driven back to the computer,’ Joel Deane.

‘ALL of my anxiety goes into my writing,’ Joel Deane.

‘Write as if it’s your last book. If you don’t want it to be your last book, don’t write the bloody thing!’ Joel Deane.

Random House Australia keep an eye out on the self publishing market, particularly for “new adults” (17-25 yo).

Alice Grundy says to work towards a deadline, eg writing comps. Behave as if your MS is a professional project.

’70% content, 20% engagement,10% self promotion’ – Alaina Gougoulis from Text Publishing tells us the ideal social media rules.

‘If you don’t know why you’re doing something, you shouldn’t be doing it!’ Zoe Dattner.

‘The question shouldn’t be “should you write for free?” It should be “should media outlets be asking people to write for free”?’ Lisa Dempster

 And my favourite quote of the Festival:

‘Stop being in love with your one stupid idea. Churn out ideas!’ John Safran.


  • I wanted a lot of the panels to go longer than they did, there were a few things I couldn’t attend due to scheduling clashes.
  • I wanted a camp!
  • Although I personally managed it okay with the help of a supportive workplace and some generous friends, it might work better for interstate guests if the festival is compacted into fewer days, rather than spread over two weekends.

Lowlights aside, I definitely suggest marking the EWF in your calendar for next year if you’re an emerging writer and want to get amongst your tribe. It really makes a difference to how you feel about your writing, which imbibes into your work.


Vanessa Jones is the Program Manager at SA Writers Centre, a freelance copywriter, blogger and a creative writer. She is also a yoga instructor. This post was reposted from Vanessa’s blog with her permission.

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