Tip 5 of 7: Show up.

Steven Hawking once said, “Half the battle is showing up.”

And as you might imagine, he was right. You don’t need me to tell you that. He was right about nearly everything.

We all have tough days, we all hit the snooze button, and we all look at the events on our calendars and think we can skip it, who will notice? In all honesty, you likely won’t be noticed by your absence. So sleep in if you like. The only one who loses here is you.

Make a resolution this year to show up.

Professional development, exchanging contact information, listening to those who have walked the path ahead of you and extending your hand to say hello are as important in the world of writing as they are in any other profession.

I encourage you to find a conference, meeting, writers’ group or class, and go. Set your fears and vulnerabilities aside and walk through the door. Immerse yourself in rooms filled with people smarter than you and learn from them. If you’re feeling really brave, ask questions. Introduce yourself. Speak up. Try.

A few years ago I signed up for a writer’s conference. Four days of classes (on a cruise ship) with the opportunity to network, pitch my work to agents, meet industry leaders, and get a sense of the publishing business. It was a great opportunity to begin to understand this world of writers and writing.

Representatives from major publishing houses spoke about trends, audiences, consumer habits, and what they look for in an author. Publicists talked about how to market your brand and your work. Agents said, “Bring it on,” and we pitched our work.

I went to the conference proud of my manuscript and ready to go. At the time I was at the top of my professional field with some success under my belt. I assumed I could make a lateral move from non-profit CEO to agented author. After all, my friends loved my manuscript.

When the instructor on the first night asked us to go around the room and read our log line* out loud, I was shameless. I was brave. I thought I’ve got this. I offered to go first. I stood up and began to read my logline. Halfway through the instructor stopped me. She used what I had said as an example of too long and packed with too much information. She was teaching us the technical definition of a log line. I quickly became an example of what a logline is NOT. She took it completely apart, offered ways to correct it, and what “absolutely needs to go” and before I could draw a breath she said, “Next,” and moved on. Her idea of a “teachable moment” left me reeling.

One alternative was to take a flying leap off the ship and swim back to Miami. On the other hand…. this is what I came for. I came to learn. I came to have my work tested. The first thing I learned was that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. That instructor was the first person other than friends and family, to offer a professional, objective opinion of my work. And in hindsight, the absence of that kind of critique and perspective of my work was glaring.

As the days went on, speakers gathered around topics and genres. I learned a lot, met some great people, and got to peak behind the curtain. The world of writers became real. If I think about the authors I read in college they were the authors of the classics. They wrote literature. Other authors (think Jackie Collins or Barbara Cartland) were celebrities associated with a reputation for glam. It all seemed intimidating. I couldn’t imagine how I’d find a place in this world of gifted and glamorous. The most important thing the conference did for me was to give me a sense of reality. Trust me, a room full of erotica authors is not what you’d expect. After that conference, when I think author I think if I do the work I can fit in here. There is a place for me.

Recently I signed up for an online 5-week course offered by a swank agency in the UK. My favorite author was the presenter. The agency provided someone to review our homework and post notes on our work on the forum each week. It was a very cool format. For an extra few bucks I could submit the first 3000 works of my current WIP and a synopsis, and for a wee bit more I could have a 30-minute session with a representative from the agency to discuss my work.

I signed up for all of it and paid my money.

And then my schedule filled in and everything else felt more important. I was exhausted at the end of a busy workday. A video and writing assignment felt like the last thing I needed. But I showed up.

I watched a video of one of my hero authors talking about her challenges, struggles, and process. I learned a lot. I looked over her shoulder to her office space and the plant that needed a bit of water and the pillows that were a bit askew on the couch. This was not an intimidating celebrity. This was a hard-working human who had mastered her craft. No glam, just hard work. It’s helpful to know that someone with thirty books to her name still wonders what happens next. The homework gave me an opportunity to stretch. The feedback from other classmates and the agency was encouraging.

As for my 3000-word submission and the synopsis, I’ve already learned that I need that kind of feedback. Getting it on dry land is helpful; no impulse to swim for the horizon. And to have a representative from an agency read my work, provide feedback and chat with me about it… that is gold. On some level the agency is using this as an acquisition tool. They are hoping to find the next big name. And in fairness, I’d like to be their next big name. 

I should have my critique back by mid-month and the one-to-one will follow. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know what happens!

And while an online opportunity like the one I just described plays an important role in your professional development, there is nothing like the opportunity to be in a room with your heroes, your peers and a few wannabes.

In your current profession, there are surely networking events. In addition to staying on top of industry trends and learning a thing or two, these in-person events present an opportunity to bump into someone you’ve always admired or offer a chance encounter over a meal to meet someone who might change the trajectory of your career. At that same conference on shipboard where I learned all I didn’t know about how to pitch a book, I learned a thing or two about what a leading streaming channel is looking for in its next cycle. And got a, “Let me know when it’s ready,” from their acquisitions editor when I told her about my current work in progress.

So, show up. Discover more about who you are. Learn about others in the field. Sit beside them. Ask the questions. Check your ego at the door. And by the way, the Chicago Writers Association has a conference in March. It’s widely regarded as one of the best out there. Take a look and show up.

And when you’ve made it, and you will, when it is your turn to do this for an up-and-comer who finds themselves seated beside you at dinner, extend a hand and bring them along.

*If you don’t know what a log line is you have just made my point. You’re going to need to know this term and a million others. Find a conference. And show up.

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