Thursday, March 12, 2009

On a Writing Seminar

Robyn and I spent nearly a week at a writing seminar recently. It was in the Barossa wine region - just north of Adelaide, SA, a beautiful spot.

For a full time writer used to sitting alone for hours working, seminars can be overwhelming. So many writers, so much to see, people you should meet, notes you should be taking - oh and the food and wine you feel compelled to eat and enjoy!

Up at seven - gosh, it's a very long time since we had to do that!

Most days we're lucky to be up by nine - and the office is just a short shuffle away! But at the seminar they had working breakfasts - a chance to 'network' as the brochure instructed. Who wants to network before your eyes have begun to focus?

Robyn's good at this sort of thing, but me? I'm shy at the best of times and so having to look confident, enthusiastic and passionate about my writing is a bit of a stretch - in real life. I mean, I am passionate about writing - very - but having to show that to strangers is like asking me to walk the high wire above a vat of fire.

At least when I'm at speaking engagements I've had time to prepare - get myself pumped - and anyway, talking to a hundred people is somehow easier than talking to just one or two - for me anyway. Does that make me strange? I hope not.


I can see the benefit of networking. You get to speak to people 'on the other side' - the people who commission writers, who have to deal with their foibles and their egos.

But that was what struck me. The most successful writers were the ones most relaxed - and least affected.

But the big thing that struck me?

Just how hard professional writers work - and how dedicated they are to re-writing, accepting criticism and consistently reworking their material until the client, publisher, producer, agent, whatever is happy.

No egos there. No artistic tantrums. None of precious protectionist attitude that amateurs are prone to display.

And that's the main thing I took away from the seminar. That professional writers are professional because they are flexible. They do not regard their work as definitive, merely a work in progress until it's published or performed.

Indeed it was clear that those who commission writers don't really understand that writers are people who string together words. They tend to see writers as 'people who come up with ideas.'

This is what they regard as your talent.

It's curious to me because I know that consistently coming up with ideas is really just a by-product of being a career writer.

It's one of things that happens along the way. It's interesting that this knack is regarded as the most useful - and I guess most sellable - talent a writer can possess.

Nothing about the craft. Spelling, punctuation, grammar - all the things we struggle with at first - all these these things are taken for granted, a prerequisite. But once you know all that, your ideas can begin to shine.

And if others don't like the shine - you have to change it, make a new model that glitters more in their eyes - and if that's not enough, you need to keep polishing, discarding, buffing, reworking and varnishing...

You see what I mean about hard work?

Writing is difficult enough sometimes without having the strength to throw out your most wonderful ideas if you can't interest a buyer with them!

But I guess that's the reality of the modern writer's world.

I read an article last week about writers sometimes 'singing the wrong song.' That sometimes constantly pushing your one great idea can sound the death knell for a writer's career.

In order to prosper as a modern writer, you need to be able to have lots of ideas - and work on only those that have 'legs' in the eyes of the people that can help you.

Literary agents in the past have said as much to Robyn and I - but at the time we probably didn't understand what they meant.

It works like this.

As much as you might love your work, it's all just words - fragile, disposable and so much detritus - until someone bites. It's an important lesson to learn if you want to be a professional writer.

That you can't really call yourself a successful writer until people want your ideas and respond to your work - and pay you to do it.

I hope this is not too depressing a thought.

I don't think it is.

It struck me as a revelation that I felt I needed to share with you.

I hope it helps you get your head around becoming a professional writer - and get rich doing it.

Keep writing!
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