This is the panel for the final session today - not yet "at the table" are Richard Garcia and Allen Woodman. This is just as the "Keeping the Faith" session was beginning, with Meg Files at the podium. We were asked to give one last piece of writing advice for everyone to take away - as Meg said, after a great conference you can end up feeling down, maybe thinking it's too hard once the excitement and energy has worn off. So this session was about how to keep going, write no matter what, and persist.
The one thing that came through for me over the three days was about being professional, not just in the way you present yourself to agents and publishers, but also in the way you think about yourself as a writer. Take your passion seriously, give it the time and energy it needs, keep reading and learning, and yes, keep the faith.
Too often we put other things ahead of writing. Yes, life does have a funny habit of taking over. Yet at least two of the published writers who were the guest speakers mentioned that they had to get up at 4am to write their novels - they made a commitment to that time before the day started to work and write. I think I could do that if I had to - even though at 4am I'm almost comatose. But if I had absolutely no other time?
I'm lucky that I can carve out 2-3 hours here and there in my week to write, but it is so easy to allow other things to intrude - to allow other people to consume your time and energy, to put errands or cleaning or even a favourite TV show before writing, to think I'll just do my emails first and two hours later your time is gone. Heather Sellar's new book Chapter After Chapter says "Writers will not finish their novels if they say Yes to other things." And it's true.
Self publishing came up quite a few times during the weekend, and for some people it is a perfect option. But sometimes, as Allan Woodman pointed out, you can be in too much of a hurry to be published. Your book is getting rejected so you say, "I have to get it out there where readers can discover it", but the truth is, you might be getting rejected because your writing and your book are just not ready yet.
It was interesting for me to hear so much from Kate Gale about small independent presses and university presses. It is a whole different level of publishing which we don't really have in Australia. We do have a few tiny independents, and one or two university presses, but not like in the US. There are many fine writers whose work is not going to have a huge audience, and the "small" option is a real option.
But as Stephen Barbara (agent from Donald Maass Agency) said, "Don't quit your day job until you have a large audience for your work." That means a sustained audience who will continue to buy everything you publish, so that you have a substantial, ongoing royalty income.
Not a hugely happy note to end on, but a practical, honest one that serves us well.