Have you ever considered volunteering at a writers’ event? Or wondered why on earth anyone would agree to work for free rather than simply attending the event? As someone who spent five days last week working (yes for free) as a volunteer at Sydney Writers Festival I might be able to answer some of these questions for you!
When I saw a call out on Twitter a few months ago from Sydney Writers Festival seeking volunteers, my interest was immediately sparked. I’d never actually attended the Sydney Writers Festival before, always somehow either missing it or not having anyone to go with (and not being keen enough to go on my own!). However, in the last year I’ve started following as many writing organisations, networks, and authors as I can find online, and I’ve been trying to go to as many events as possible to do with writing and publishing. So although this year I was planning to attend the Sydney Writers Festival, when I saw the callout for volunteers I realised that could be a far more valuable experience.
So why volunteer? As a new or aspiring writer, there are heaps of benefits to being a volunteer at a writers’ event. Here are the main things I took away from the week and that I think any new writer could benefit from:
- Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how a writers’ festival is organised
- Getting to work with and talk to the staff or organisers of the event. If you’re lucky you might get some time alone with someone and you can ask loads of questions! For me, talking to the event programmer and learning how the events and authors were selected was one of the most valuable two-minute conversations I had.
- Getting to spend a bit of time in the Author’s Green Room – a magical place that anyone who has dreamed of being a famous author will be drooling over to get a glimpse of
- You don’t need to feel like you’re going alone to an event if that’s something you’re not comfortable with – wearing a volunteer t-shirt makes you instantly friends with everyone else also volunteering
- Depending on where you’re rostered, you often get to sit in on various talks and session for free
- Talking and chatting to festival attendees. I spent two days approaching people to do the festival survey with them, and ended up having some great conversations! I also got a good insight into what sort of people attend the events and what they like about them – invaluable knowledge if you’re one day dreaming of being one of the authors speaking at such an event, or needing to pitch an idea for a session to the organisers.
Of course there is the fact that you are essentially working for free, which is probably a huge turn off for anyone considering volunteering. But as someone who has volunteered at other events in the past and who has also worked as an intern for months I know the value to gaining knowledge and experience of such events can be far more beneficial than any financial reward.
And although it does seem ironic to me that only 7 months ago I had a full-time corporate job earning a rather lovely salary and now I’m working for free, I’m still super happy that I’m finally taking steps towards the career that I actually want!
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