Every writer, published or not, should attend at least one writing or book-related conference. After being stuck in front of a keyboard for hours, days or months, it does the heart good to mix with others of the same ilk and even to listen in on what is being planned, written or polished.
I've just had such a day at the Winchester Writers' Conference, and after giving two talks and a number of one-to-ones with yet-to-be-published writers, I came away with a renewed sense of energy about this strange, often isolating game that we're all pursuing.
It was lovely to meet old friends, one of whom was the lovely Sally Spedding, who has what is probably the creepiest website page you can imagine, but which positively invites you to look further. (Go on, give it a try - along with her books, which are truly atmospheric). It was a fleeting meeting, since we were both on our way to different rooms, but always good to exchange a hug and a few words with such a well-known and respected author.
One thing you can't fail to notice at events like this is the air of optimism; optimism about finishing that book, about being able to find an agent - but mostly about finding a publisher. Most of the time this is something kept quietly subdued, shared only with family, close friends or members of a writers' group. But maybe that's one reason for attending these conferences - to let that optimism out into the open and share with others the dream of one day getting that request for a 'full' manuscript.
Of course, that's hardly the end of things - and certainly no guarantee that a deal will follow. The only certainties in life are death, taxes... and spam.
It's another step on the way, however. In the meantime, it's worth listening to others and picking up hints or ideas that might help shuffle one slightly closer to success, and to avoid being overcome by the blue meanies.
But what is heart-warming is the difference between the writers I met. At one end of the scale I spoke to a lady who was just a few thousand words into her very first book, and enjoying herself immensely after putting it off for many years. For her it was a new adventure which had brought her into contact with a whole world of people she could relate to and understand, as well as giving her untold pleasure as she creates a cast of characters and puts them down on paper. At the other end of the scale was a gentlemen who was writing his fifth book, undaunted by not yet having found a publisher, and intent on upping his game to a level he regarded as essential - and enjoying himself in the process, too.
Neither of these writers has any misconceptions about what they're engaged in; they don't expect immediate success (but yes, it would be nice!), they know the competition out there is fierce and they certainly aren't under any illusions that once you've finished a work, all you have to do is sit back and wait for that telephone call. (Unlike a writer I met recently who genuinely believed that all you had to do was write a book and a publisher would offer you a deal. Yes, really).
Sadly, there are writers who do not appear to have studied anything about the publishing industry - nor about how to lay out a manuscript (which is still essential if you want to be taken as a professional). And yet the information is available - for free. As I was tempted to say to a writer I met last year who seemed unaware of the importance of commas and full stops, and appeared quite affronted when I suggested a few examples, 'If you wanted to be a professional plumber, you would surely read up on the basics of well... plumbing - wouldn't you?'
I hope all the writers this weekend went away with a renewed sense of vigour and energy, and that next year, they will be back with a 'Guess what...?!"