We had the good fortune of connecting with Dianna Gunn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dianna, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Writing conferences are one of the best ways to advance your career as an author, but they’ve always been inaccessible to a huge number of writers. Between the need to travel, the cost of travel and conference tickets, the often-inaccessible venues, and the lack of childcare offered at these events, the barrier to entry is high. And the vast majority don’t offer payment or even cover part of the travel/accommodations cost unless you’re the Guest of Honor.
These events also run on a lot of free labor. Conferences of all shapes and sizes rely on volunteers for every aspect of running an event. If anyone gets paid, it’s one or two people at the top.
This limits who can be part of these events and perpetuates the exclusivity of publishing, where it’s almost impossible to succeed as anything other than a middle-class white person.
The Weeknight Writers Group is dedicated to creating conferences and other educational and community supports for writers from every background. We offer our flagship events, virtual one-day conferences called Storycrafting Sessions, for 100% free. We work hard to make sure all of our programs are affordable and, in most cases, if we can’t make it 100% free we’ll offer free spots to a certain number of people. And, while we’re not quite there yet, we’re determined to use this while paying every single person involved in our conferences, from the organizers to the panelists.
All of these measures are to make sure we’re nurturing the voices that are already ignored. We know marginalized folks have incredible voices and even more powerful stories to tell with those voices, and we’re determined to help them make it in an industry that all too often shuts them out, whether it’s by actively telling them they’re not wanted or by making programs impossible for them to access.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m one of those people who has always known my calling. I decided I was going to become a writer at eight years old and wrote my first (very, very bad) fantasy novel at eleven. I spent my teen years studying publishing and looking for ways to build my life around my writing, rather than building my writing around my life. And, in spite of living through an enormous amount of trauma in my preteen and teen years, I wrote a lot in those years, including the foundational drafts of my first two books.
The writing, as it turned out, was the easy part. When you create the first draft of a novel, you’re pouring your heart and soul onto the page. When you start editing, you have to tear that soul apart and remake it over and over again until it sparkles. Then you have to bare that soul to the world and hope people resonate with it enough to buy it, and to keep buying different pieces of it with each new book you write. You also have to do this all as your second career, because most writers don’t make a living until they’re on their third or fifth or tenth book. Many more never make it at all, and sitting with that knowledge can be incredibly demoralizing.
I keep at it, though, because my books are my soul. The fantasy worlds I weave are places that have sprung forth from the deepest parts of my mind, some even lifted from dreams. The characters I create carry pieces of myself into those worlds and overcome their mental struggles that mirror my own journey with mental illness. They’ve saved my life, and I hope someday they’ll save someone else’s life, too.
I also know that most writers are like me. We write not because we want to but because we have to, because these stories are in our souls and simply must come out. This is why I created the Weeknight Writers Group: to help people tell the stories of their souls.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite spot in the city is Kensington Market. There are so many interesting little shops and there’s a real small-community vibe despite it being right beside downtown. And you’re only a short walk away from some of the best ramen places!
I’m also a big fan of High Park. You can walk through it for so long that you feel like you’re not in the city anymore, and it’s doubly beautiful at cherry blossom time.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The person who has never gotten enough credit (or money) for anything is my grandmother, Victoria Roth. She’s an incredible woman with an endless amount of love to give and more tenacity than anyone I’ve ever met. Without her guiding presence I’m not sure I would have survived my teen years, let alone become the founder of something amazing like the Weeknight Writers Group.
Headshot – Sandy Kennedy Weeknight Writers brand images – Mato J Steger of Fantasy & Coffee Designs