In his 1984 essay ‘On Writing’, short-fiction master Raymond Carver explained that part of his creative routine involved collecting advice, including sentence fragments he considered to be perfect, from other authors. Carver, himself hugely influential and imitable, would write these pearls of wisdom onto three-by-five cards and sticky tape them above his desk.

The importance of mantras among writers was something my mind kept returning to throughout the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival. Having scored a short-term position on the MWF marketing team, one of my responsibilities was to foster social media buzz around the festival, which was as straight forward and tricky a task as you’d expect. Over its 11 days, this involved live tweeting events.

While I enjoyed live tweeting, at times I found it frustrating.Trying to condense an author’s complex remarks into the unforgiving 140 character limit often took longer than hoped, causing me to occasionally miss whatever the author went on to say. That said, live tweeting forced me to engage fully with the event, curtailing any mind wandering or tuning out. It was also a fantastic way to interact with other audience members during and in-between sessions.

Drawing a lot of interest, both online and offline, was Nigerian-American guest Teju Cole who is perhaps better known for his creative Twitter presence than his novels. Teju spoke on two separate panels about the overlooked literary merits of Twitter and, in his intelligent and eloquent way, argued that Twitter should be taken seriously by writers.

In the panel I saw, Teju raised the interesting point that ‘on Twitter there are no novelists but there is one novel.’ Teju believes Twitter democratises the writing process, going so far as to suggest the unmediated access to tweeter’s consciousness is akin to the stream of consciousness experimentations of the Modernists. Whether or not you think this is a long bow to draw, Teju’s wordplay on Twitter is undeniably fascinating and his tweet about arriving in Australia supports his case rather nicely that social media is an ideal platform for disseminating poetry:


Teju screen shot


To my mind, the biggest advantage of Twitter is the digital recording of those marvellous  ‘quotable quotes’ which serendipitously tumble out of the mouths of authors on stage. Pre-Twitter, such quotes might have disappeared into the ether unless a tape recorder was running. Through Twitter, such words of advice or wisdom are are left to bounce around the digital realm, where they are instantly retrieved or stumbled across through a search engine.

Below is a list of my favourite festival mantras RT’d around Twitter. None are from the authors’ personal accounts, rather they were captured by myself, or other festival goers, and are searchable through the official hashtag: #MWF13.  If you like, consider this the ’10 lessons you can take away from the Melbourne Writers Festival.’ And if you’re old-fashioned, you may wish to copy them onto paper and, like Carver, stick them above your desk.


Ruth Ozeki: I’m compelled to write fiction because reality isn’t enough for me

Lloyd Jones: Writers are predatory like magpies, they’re constantly on the look out for snippets of stories.

Jay Griffiths: Daydreaming is just as important as an adult as in childhood. It’s the best way to channel creativity in writing.

Marina Warner: Narrative is a tapestry in which people come together to weave meaning.

Ramona Koval: Our book collections are like archeologies of the self.

Junot Díaz: The average person on the street can write a novel, but not everyone has the heart to.

Tavi Gevinson: Most of my world is a composite of the works of others. These are mostly Beyoncé lyrics.

Alison Croggon: Good writing speaks to inner desires a reader is unable to articulate.

Junot Díaz: Reading opens a space of deliberation where we encounter our human selves.

Chandrahas Choudhury: Anyone who seeks the answer to life in a sentence or two is bound to be disappointed. 


Emily Laidlaw is Online Editor at Kill Your Darlings.