Is splashing out for a Writing Weekend a useful tool for aspiring writers?

by Pam Fish -┬áChair of the National Association of Writer’s Groups is coming to that time of the year when we, as writers start reading about residential writing courses – Festivals, Schools and Weekends. Are they worth it? Some appear to be quite expensive. Will I gain anything for my writing? Who goes? And, arenÔÇÖt they mainly recreational? What exactly do you get out of it? If you are new to the game choosing represents a rather daunting prospect. They are varied in what they offer, but I can assure you that some are with experienced, professional tutors and they will work you very hard. So, how will you find the right one for you?

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I went to my first Writing Festival in 2002 ÔÇô the NAWG Festival of Writing at Durham University. And now, thirteen years later have two novels published and I am the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, of the National Association of Writers Groups (NAWG) and heavily involved with the planning of their annual writing festivals, which for this year has been re-branded NAWGFest 2016.

This must say something for attending a writing festival as a novice writer.

I saw the advertisement in Writing Magazine and wondered if this could be the extra push that I needed, being half way through my first novel, but not exactly sure what I was doing. I went along very apprehensively and mingled with the other delegates. IÔÇÖd been a late booking and so my workshops were not exactly what I wanted and the one-to-one was of a genre that I had no intention of following. IÔÇÖd written a piece and sent it ahead of me and when the time came; the one-to-one was a disaster.

Nevertheless, friendly conversation around the table at dinner time, with like-minded people, instantly made me feel less of a fool and there you have it. I found that the company of other writers was invaluable to get on in my chosen endeavours, because writing can be a very isolated business. I came away from the festival calling myself a writer and that gave me great encouragement to get to where I am now.

So, quoting from my own experience, writing festivals and weekends are great ways to boost your self-confidence and indeed giving you the essential learning to improve your writing.

Look carefully at what is on offer, and be prepared to work hard as well as play hard. First class professional tutors offering you the benefit of their own achievements and experience are always worth looking out for in the festival programme and at least one award winning, top selling author to brush shoulders with, makes all the difference to what you get out of the event.

Recommendations from both delegates and tutors can be invaluable and happy tutors make good ones. A quote from a tutor at NAWGÔÇÖs 2015 festival reads: ÔÇÿI want to say how great the atmosphere was, and the feedback I was getting from participants with regard to their general experience at the (2015 NAWG) festival was really great. Indeed, I always find that the measure of a really successful conference event is the quality of the out-of-session conversations you have with people ÔÇô and this year ÔÇô was exceptional. I felt that people were really being challenged, inspired and interrogating their practice.ÔÇÖ

This completely endorses my opinion that atmosphere and general socialising plays a great part of the experience. Finally, from a delegate to the organisers at the same event: ÔÇÿYou must be very proud to be able to present such an outstanding group of course leaders and speakers. The warmth of the welcome and the quality of the courses made the whole event most memorable.ÔÇÖ Favouring the hard work and learning part, as being essential.

So, there you have it ÔÇô choose well.

Pam Fish