Last year, more or less on a whim, I entered the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair. I was about halfway through writing a book I thought was properly good, and was certainly topical, and I wanted a deadline to give myself the push to finish it. So, I paid over my €50 as soon as the Novel Fair opened, then spent the period between April and October getting my first 10,000 words into as good a shape as I could get them.
I took a couple of very useful courses. I know some people doubt the value of courses. Another writer told me that his colleagues make fun of him for taking courses in writing. "Don't you know how to do it by now?" That kind of thing. But people go to yoga classes every week for years. And art classes. And dance. So why not writing? There's always something new to learn. And there are always other writers to meet. Plus, you know, you can steal people's ideas. (Just my little joke. Obviously I do not do this.)
I paid an editor to polish my entry (missus). This was extremely valuable for a whole lot of reasons. Obviously, the main one is that a good editor lifts your writing from readable to really pretty good. Another is this: did you know that you don't have to make every change the editor tells you? After twenty years in the tech writing business, hewing closely to the style guide at all times and bowing to the superior knowledge of my editor/SME, I found it very freeing to realise that if the editor wanted to swap "handsomeness" for "good looks", I could refuse to make the change.
I got a synopsis written. This is horrible, and everyone hates it, and somehow it's much harder than writing the whole actual book, but I got it done.
And, hey, I must have done something right, because I was shortlisted.
I got my novel finished, edited, beta-read, and re-edited. And people who read it liked it. I met the other writers. We flapped about how worried we were. We discussed bindings and bulldog clips and Strepsils. So much excitement and validation and fluttery nerves and camaraderie.
The day itself was a lot of fun, too. Obviously it did not go as well as I would have liked, but that's alright. It did go very well for other people.
But, you know, Jacob turns the wheel, or whatever.
A few years ago, I read an interview in the AV Club with a blogger who had been a contestant on The Biggest Loser. She talked about the close connection all the contestants end up having with the trainers, and how it all gets very intense, and the trainers promise they'll keep in touch when contestants leave and the season finishes. But, this person said, you rapidly discover that the connection, as deep as it might have been, is temporary. Eventually, even the neediest former contestants get the hint that they had their turn, and they have to get out of the way and let someone else have their turn.
The 2018 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair opens for applications soon, and in another ten months or so, there'll be a new crop of writers getting the phone call. Maybe they'll actually be expecting it. I hope it makes them as happy as it made me.