I just left a writers' conference, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is meeting other writers and spending days talking of almost nothing but writing. We're a generous bunch, and we share information from whatever level we're on with those who are a step or three behind. I spoke with several people who were just getting started, some still afraid to put ink on paper for fear it would be wrong. It will, I told them, but wrong is where we all have to begin.
In turn, I soaked up advice from those more experienced about how to track sales, deal with bookstores, and keep a philosophical outlook on the whole process. All of us, I think, were inspired by Lee Child's talk, in which he contended that crime writing was the beginning of fiction, for why else would ancient man have moved from truth to fiction if not to educate and encourage his fellows? "This is how we overcome evil," the stories must have said. "This is how we prevail over the dangers of the world." Lee claims that all other storytelling came afterward, and that we as crime writers should graciously say to the others, even those literary types, "Welcome to our boat."
The down side of conferences, at least for me, is seeing how many writers there are out there. Each of them would love to publish a dozen books, or two dozen, and we all know the number of fiction readers in the world is not growing at leaps and bounds. And their ideas are good. As they tell their story lines with eager faces, I think, "That's not bad." But the competition is fierce, and the faces of editors and agents reflect their own frustration with not being able to accept everything they see that is worthy of publication.
So my enthusiasm rises at conferences, buoyed by a sense of the fun and the power of writing, but it also falls a bit to hear again about the serious barriers that face every writer. Nevertheless, I always leave a con with a determined attitude, ready to improve my work and make more contacts.
It's not a job for sissies, though, and you'd better have your work clothes on.