One of the best things you can do for your writing self, if at all possible, is to attend a writing workshop or a conference. Not only do we benefit from the insight of professional people within publishing, but for that day, evening, or hour, we live as writers – we are writers, and everyone around us writes, and these are our people, and this is our industry.
For me, both aspects are equally important. Writers work in isolation – we physically tuck ourselves away to write, and then mentally retreat from real life into the fantasy world of words. It can be hard to keep the flame alive, especially for unpublished folk who maybe don’t have anyone else cheerleading for them – time and again you have to speak against the doubting voice in your head, and it can be hard to convince yourself ‘I am a writer; I will be an author’, especially if the majority of your day is spent being someone else entirely.
Workshops are fab as they reaffirm our ambitions and aspirations. They are even nicer when they are run by someone like Nicola Morgan - a successful published author who clearly knows her stuff and delivers considered advice in a thoroughly engaging way. Readers of her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher!, will know that she holds the number one google ranking for ‘Crabbit Old Bat’, a moniker bestowed because of her honest forthright opinions on writing. What I've also discovered is that self-confessed crabbit old bats are also warm, witty, and incredibly nice people.
I was attending the workshop with Vikki, the writer behind Back to the Castle (and musician / costume maker extraordinaire), and so caught the 4.50 from Paddington up to Oxford. Being a huge Agatha Christie fan I was very tickled to get this train, although I’m happy to report there was a distinct lack of murders.
After a whistle-stop tour of the centre of Oxford, cunningly planned to incorporate a stop for delicious cake, we descended on Blackwell’s lovely bookshop. There was a good sized crowd of people with notebooks already seated as we scurried into place, and a show of hands revealed that we were nearly all fiction writers, with a small scattering of non-fiction amongst our number. Nicola’s talk was everything I was expecting but with added sparkle – she brought characters with her to demonstrate the numerous ways writers can fall into pitfalls, such as the dramatic woman in love with her own prose, the elderly lady who wants to write for children as ‘it’s easy’. This was a really clever and fun way to highlight key points from her presentation.
The part of the workshop I was most looking forward to was writing the pitch paragraph. This is the paragraph that appears in your covering letter – the bit that condenses your novel, the hook that sells your story. I am currently at this stage and so need all the help I can get! We’d been nicely led to this crucial moment - Nicola imbibing us with knowledge, and the red wine served at the interval perhaps giving a bit of Dutch courage. All I know is that for the first time I really seemed to get it – a paragraph fell from my pen onto my notebook, and I really, really like it. It needs a bit more work but the bones are there now, which is brilliant. Not only that, but all attendees got a free copy of Nicola’s e-book, Write A Great Synopsis, which I am halfway through reading and heartily recommend already.
And the best way to end such a magical evening? A glass of wine with friends in a lovely high-ceilinged Art Deco bar. Cheers to Oxford, Blackwell’s, Nicola Morgan, and Vikki! I now have some writing to do. *grins*