→ Isabella Lloyd
Calling yourself a writer can be daunting; but since you’re a reader you’re already half way there.
Rebecca Solnit has eloquently said: ‘Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.’
The funny thing about reading and writing is they both exist inside the mind of an individual. Ideas, emotions and moments connect readers and writers, even though the writer may be sitting at a desk in Darwin while the reader is tucked up in bed in Maroochydore. Because of this it can be tough for readers and writers to put themselves out there and—get ready for it— ‘network’.
So how then, if reading and writing are typically done in solitude, do we create communities? Writers, and especially readers,both desire to share the reading experience: to engage with others and discuss what they are reading, whether they want to praise it, critique it or simply make it known. Different communities serve the differing needs of readers and writers. Some serve both (a writers’ festival), some just the reader (a bookclub or bookstore) and some just the writer (writers’ groups).
Take, for instance, Melbourne, a prime example of a city which hosts bothreader and writer communities. As a UNESCO City of Literature, Melbourne is proudly literary. It is the home of writers, independent publishers, and bookstores. Melburnians consume more books, magazines and newspapers per capita than any other city in Australia. Melbourne also hosts the highest concentration of book clubs in the country, and is home to Australia’s oldest public library.
The Melbourne Writers Festival is the city’s biggest literary event, with a record attendance of 73,000 last year. In the festival director’s words, the MWF is: ‘Victoria’s winter celebration for readers, writers and thinkers [which] builds communities from amazing moments, powerful connections and the exchange of ideas between readers and writers’.
Confession time. I have only been to one event at a writers’ festival and that was to see Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, on a free ticket from a friend’s mum. As a wannabe writer, I’m ashamed of this. It’s from this position as a festival virgin that I find myself feeling like a fraud calling myself a writer. But I must remember that as a reader, I’m well on my way to belonging.
It may come across as naïve but I think the little things—like thoughtfully displaying the books you love, reading reviews, following bibliophiles on Instagram, watching The Book Club, and visiting independent bookstores around the country—canall enrich your identity as a reader and as a writer. And once you’re aware of them, you’ll see reader and writer communities popping up everywhere. Just last week I discovered Buck Mulligans, a bookstore and Irish whisky bar in Northcote which hosts monthly ‘Writers Under the Influence’ events, not to mention the countless launch events and book clubs you can join or create across the city and beyond.
On a visit to the State Library of Victoria earlier this year I picked up a free schedule of the Emerging Writers Festival, which to my delight doubled as a pretty poster. I was quick to put in on my wall but not so quick to look at the schedule. I’ve since booked ticketsto two events for my sister and I (albeit free ones, but I’ll consider more after payday) and can now look at my poster without the guilt I felt before. It would be pointless to continue beating myself up for my lack of literary engagement, all that kind of thinking does is make apotentially delightful and enriching experience feel negative and intimidating.
There’s a very good chance thatI may be preaching to the people who are already active within reader and writer communities, but if my experience, or lack thereof, is something you can relate to I hope you take this as encouragement to simply start. If you need to, allow yourself some observatory practice before working up to proper ‘networking’ at reader and writer events. Learn who the regular faces are, listen to how they speak, and take some inspiration from the brilliant minds around you. At the very least you’ll get a drink, some nibbles and maybe even a goodie bag or bookmark.
For aspiring writers, writers’ groups are great to join and get involved in. For some peoplelike me, this idea may bring back the flooding anxiety that came with creative writing workshops at university. However, writers’ groups can take on many other forms outside of this model. Some meet monthly, some fortnightly, some ask for donations or membership, others are free. Some are social, with a focus on discussion and inspiration, while others are just for editing and critique. A writers’ group can expose you to the creative processes of others whilst giving you deadlines and motivation to practice your own writing. As a writer, external critique of your work is inevitable, and it’s vital to use feedback in your drafting stages, rather than hearing it at the end when nothing can be done to fix anything.
Introducing yourself as a writer can be a daunting task—at least for me it is—and I’m slowly working up to it. So, in the meantime, I’ll wear my reader badge proudly while I get my writer muscles flexing by getting involved in some of the many writing and reading communities that our great city offers.