The National Young Writers’ Festival is a fantastically free, annual event that brings together young creatives from across Australia to talk about life, drinking and occasionally writing. If you have any time at all over the long weekend and are interested in writing, writers, looking at pretty writers, creativity or publishing, it’s the bomb-diggity. Over the next week Vertigo will be showcasing some of the lovely lads and ladies who’ll be at NYWF. Here’s Steph Harmon, managing editor of Junkee/lurker of the internet/patter of dogs, sharing with us bits of writerly wisdom and weird videos on the internet.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
Before that, I was the editor of Sydney streetpress The BRAG; before that, I edited an arts/culture blog called Throw Shapes (now long-gone), and before that, I was trying to get any job I could.
What was the hardest thing about starting out?
I guess finding work? That said, I remember just going up to people and demanding it, so maybe starting out wasn’t the hard bit.
Things get more difficult as you get older and begin second-guessing every move you make; you compare yourself to all the incredible people who are out there doing incredible things, and wonder if you’re exactly where you should be by now.
That never goes away. And maybe it shouldn’t, as long as it keeps you moving forward and producing the best stuff you can.
What sort of wisdom can you impart to young writers?
1) Surround yourself with good, smart people and ride their coat-tails to sweet, sweet success.
2) As soon as you’ve stopped learning in your workplace, it’s time to either quit or get paid better.
3) Don’t read the comments.
With digital technology and the internet changing the way we think and behave, produce and consume information, what do you think is the thing that terrifies/worries us most?
The internet comes with a lot of problems: writers not getting paid enough; facts not being verified enough; outlets racing each other to publish first, sacrificing quality along the way; the loss of journalistic expertise in the face of all those other things I just mentioned; a reactive culture of outrage articles, or as Liam Pieper puts it, The Supermassive Faphole. I’m hopeful that with the right pressure exerted in the right places, and the right people doing the right things, some of that will sort itself out.
The internet’s not going anywhere; we just have to try harder to do it right, and evolve when we’re doing it wrong.
And is there something we can be hopeful about?
People are terrified that the internet is making us dumber. I’m way more hopeful than that. I think the internet is making us pick and choose what we want to consume, and be more critical of it. If we choose well, and don’t get stuck in a circle-jerk of an echo chamber (there’s an image to cherish forever), there’s way more smart, innovative, original stuff out there than there ever was before.
Also, Twitter can be super fun.
You’re part of the ‘Free Speech or Hate Speech’ and ‘Slacktivism vs Street Protests’ panels at this year’s NYWF. Can you give us a bit of an idea as to the kind of position you’ll be taking, and what you’ll be talking about?
I’m moderating both panels rather than taking a position, although I will be bringing a few opinions.
In ‘Slacktivism vs Street Protests’, some amazing writers and thinkers — James Colley, Clem Ford, Mark Isaacs, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied — will be talking about whether activism can still be meaningful in the digital age.
Young people always get shit for thinking they can solve a problem by clicking a button, signing an online petition, or throwing a bucket of ice water on their heads — which is fair, to an extent. But what makes these types of protests so different to marches on the street, which were also about raising awareness for an issue while bringing a group of likeminded people together? What works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to online activism?
In ‘Free Speech or Hate Speech’, Michelle Law, Amy Middleton, Mark Isaacs and Omar Musa will be talking about the importance of free speech for writers and journalists, and the limits that are currently imposed on it. Some limits might be good — laws against hate speech, for instance — while others are demonstrably bad. In light of the recent anti-terrorism laws, this one may get a little political. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Which NYWF events are you keen to check out this year?
SO many of them. Especially the events that involve Junkee contributors: Patrick Lenton, Rebecca Shaw, Amy Gray, James Colley, A.H. Cayley, Elizabeth Flux, Matt Roden, Luke Ryan, Gen Fricker, and Elizabeth Redman.
‘My Favourite Is Problematic’ — about what it’s like being cruelly disappointed by your heroes — sounds amazing because Aziz Ansari was a jerk to me when I interviewed him once. ‘TV Land’, about TV and screenwriting, will be great because I love TV. ‘Confession Booth’, which is one of my favourite storytelling nights in Sydney, is doing a session for NYWF. ‘Whose Identity Is It Anyway’ sounds fascinating, too: about navigating that tricky fine line, as a writer, of assuming the voice/identity of someone who you don’t actually have much in common with.
I’ll definitely be at the Young Journalist Symposium, trying to poach me some new writers. And everyone should go to ‘If It’s Good Enough For 9 Year Olds’ workshop run by the Sydney Story Factory — a non profit writing centre for kids based in Redfern, based on Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia centres.
Fondest memory of NYWF?
That time I was hungover and ran into Elmo Keep, who was hungover, and we went for a walk and ran into Ben Jenkins, who was hungover, and then suddenly we were at the pool eating ice cream and everything was perfect.
More relevant NYWF memory? Running for shelter during a rainstorm, and finding myself in the middle of a writers’ circle with a whole group of talented strangers. I hadn’t done creative writing for years — it was kind of liberating/terrifying trying to flex that flaccid muscle.
I think those are the best times at festivals like NYWF: when you just say yes to everything.
Give us your best plug for NYWF.
Benjamin Law has promised to be swimming nude at one point.
— Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) September 25, 2014
*Late night nudie swims not listed in official program.
— Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) September 25, 2014
What’s your favourite failed project and why?
I had this intern, Andy Huang…
Which #rejectedNYFW panel did you most want to see happen?
You come across — and write about — a lot of strange things on the internet. What’s the weirdest one so far?
I come across something weird on the internet every few minutes. This is the most recent:
National Young Writers’ Festival runs from October 2 – 5 in Newcastle.
Steph Harmon will be appearing in:
Free Speech or Hate Speech @ Hunter Design School on Friday 3 October, 11:00am
Slacktivism vs Street Protests: the Future of Civil Disobedience @ Hunter Design School on Saturday 4 October, 4.00pm