1) You don’t know what you don’t know.
I learned a great deal of things about writing, promotion, the publishing industry, which I had absolutely no idea about before. Yes, you could get some information on the internet, but when you’re starting out, it’s like the new thing you’re grappling with has no edges, no shape, no names, no words for you to google even (shock horror!). When you’re entering a new ‘industry’ as I was, taking your first tentative steps, there’s a whole new language, set of abbreviations, tools and techniques you need to learn. And there’s something very human and satisfying about learning new things with like-minded people, being able to ask in the breaks or over lunch, ‘What’s a trope?’ or ‘What does HEA stand for?’ And because you’re in like, friendly company your answer is met with a friendly helpful response. I didn’t even know what a blog tour was, never mind being able to think, that would be a useful way to promote my book. I’d never heard of Nanowrimo, and over dinner Anna Martin explained it to me. I didn’t do it in November, but ended up doing Janowrimo instead. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and there’s a whole new world of new ideas and concepts to know. Once you start to know what you didn’t know, that leads onto more knowledge, and then you can begin to have opinions about these new concepts: is a HEA always good; should I do Nano this year? As I drove through Brighton on my way home, that Saturday night, my head was buzzing with ideas and new phrases, like these, and I doubt very much if I’d have got that buzz from a few hours diligently googling.
2) It can lead to lots of other things, which wouldn’t happen (probably) if you’d not met the people face to face.
Meeting people at writing events can lead to many other opportunities, which may have happened, had you met them online, but are much more likely having met the real people and really ‘connected’ with them in physical real time. There’s something about having a meal with a group of new people, chatting over tea (I don’t drink coffee) between sessions, asking them how they’ve got on, that cements relationships in a way online can’t. After the UK Meet I was asked by Charlie Cochrane to guest on her blog, which I loved. I was asked by Clare London to take part in the next big thing blog tour, and because I’d met some other authors, I actually had people to tag. I’ve been on Becky Black’s blog. And somehow, using my marketing skills from my day job, I’ve ended up being part of the planning group for the 2013 UK Meet: I said yes to all of them. All things which I doubt would have happened, had I not met these people at the UK Meet 2012.
3) Writing can be quite a lonely experience and these events brings us together.
Although my friends have taken an interest in my writing to varying degrees, ranging from begging me to read the manuscript and commenting profusely, to not knowing what to say, I’ve found the actual process of writing can be quite lonely: it’s me, my laptop, a cup of tea, and sometimes one of my cats on my lap. I tend to write when I’m alone in the house, finding it helps my productivity. This is contrary to my extrovert personality (I’ve done Myers Briggs, and reading the summary was like they’d got inside my head had a poke around and written the report, rather than me ticking some boxes on a form) where I love interactions with people, hearing their stories, meeting my friends and family. But with the exception of one friend, I had no one I could talk proper geeky writing with – technique, planning, word count, you know the nitty gritty. Not one. I have ‘car friends’ with whom I can indulge my geeky car interests. So going to the UK Meet allowed my inner writing geek loose: to plan or not to plan; how many words can you write in a day; where do you get your ideas from; grammar errors which should result in capital punishment...All topics you can talk about until your little writing heart’s content at writing events. At UK Meet 2012 I realised I’d finally found my people, I’d found my ‘writing friends’ which is so healthy and normal as a person, to share interests with others. Yes, you can have these discussions online, and I think that’s great (and do still do that). However, in a world when online seems to be the way all things are going, there’s something very comfortingly old-fashioned about meeting people face to face, having a ‘I do that too’ moment, or a ‘are you mad, you’re wrong’ moment, face to face. These moments are the seeds of friendships and before you know it you have a range of ‘writing friends’ all around you. That’s something writing events can deliver in spades if you roll your sleeves up and get involved.
4) Knowing who to contact for different questions and to ask for help.
Yes, you can do this online. Yes, I have done this online (I contacted Laura online, having never met her to ask if I could be on this blog). However, I wouldn’t have known anything about the Romaniacs blog, as I wouldn’t have known what to google, or what a guest blog post was (see point 1) if I’d not been to the UK Meet. Also it was Charlie Cochrane, who I met at UK Meet (thanks v much) who introduced me to Laura. Now, I’m sure Laura’s very kind and generous and would have welcomed me on the blog with virtual open arms, but I felt a had a better chance, a better hope of a warm welcome, having been introduced from Charlie. It’s a bit like in the mafia where they introduce new members as ‘a friend of mine’ which means they’re safe and not the police. (I have the full box set of The Sopranos and Donnie Brasco for that reference btw!)
5) Talking to others who’ve been through the same thing you’re going through. When you’re an unpublished author, as I am at the moment, getting published can seem like a mythical world, far far away. A bit like Narnia maybe... mmm James McAvoy playing a fawn, concentrate Liam... So talking to other authors who’ve been through that process, and come out the other side, a published author was one of the most valuable things I took from the UK Meet. The session on getting published, where Becky Black explained there was no magic handshake, no special codes, it was about making the work the best you can, targeting the right publishers, and persevering, was like a halleluiah moment in my head. Talking to other authors during the weekend in Brighton showed me many other similar stories about other authors, juggling writing with family/work/pets/life, and still getting published. Hearing these stories from the mouths of other writers was so much more powerful than reading about it on the internet, and it has really spurred me onto getting published.
6) Practical tips for things you’d never have believed you could do. Me, making a website! Never. When I went to UK Meet, all I had was a domain name www.liamlivings.com (which against the better belief of The Boyfriend, and all my friends who know I have no web skills whatsoever, I’d somehow managed to organise). Having spoken to other writers, who’d all made their own websites/blogs/whatevers who were all about the writing and not so much about the HTML, I had the confidence to make my website and blog. I left the UK Meet 2012, with a list of build your own website (for dummies) sites. One afternoon, two weeks after the UK Meet, I made it happen. Whatever your particular sticking point as a writer, I’m sure a chat with someone who’s been there before who could show you how easy it is, would free your sticking point. I would not have had this confidence, to just go ahead and do it, had I not spoken to so many others who’d done the same.
So, the next time you’re umming and ahhing about whether to stump up the air/rail/fuel and hotel to attend a writing event, just remember how valuable it is to really connect (old fashioned face to face connect) with like minded people, and how many more wonderful opportunities can come from a conversation with another writer.
Do you agree or disagree with these points? How have you found writers events?
Until next time