This is a beginning, you'll be pleased to know. How should I begin, then? Let me tell you about my weekend.
I ventured forth from my mountain fortress in Switzerland into the wilds of Derby for alt.fiction (how much of that is a lie is for you to ponder) I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of friends while there - the divine Miss Kate Laity and the mighty Miss Adele Wearing - both of whom were involved in proceedings. So I didn't entirely feel like the new kid at school. I haven't been to a literary convention before. I'd been to many Astronomy ones as a kid - and they were completely different.
It was nice to be surrounded by people who like the things I like. Mind you, I grew up with a family full of them, but sometimes it's good to know that Other People are out there, reading the scares, and understanding the beauty of genre. Although I'm fairly friendly, I have a pathological belief that me interrupting people and saying hello is always an inconvenience to them, so I don't tend to start conversations with people I don't know. Sometimes I don't start them with those I do know ... and sometimes I witter on with wild abandon and only afterwards think, SHUT IT ... Anyway, I didn't meet many people because of my stupidity, but I earwigged conversations, put some gratuitous people watching time in, went to panels and readings, and drank some cider. It was a fine weekend.
What I took away from it, as a timid writer, is to take it seriously. This is a job. You need to be professional and not be a twat about it. If you want to succeed, the only real way is to believe in yourself and your stories. If you won't stand up for your work, who will? The next thing I learned, however (and this was something that surprised me about the mindset of too many people to think about) is you shouldn't believe in your work to the nth degree. Blind faith and "my mum says it's brilliant" are not the currency that will get you published. What will is hard work, a realistic outlook, and a professional attitude. Those writing in crayon need not apply.
So if, next year, you're thinking you should get out there and live your love of genre, alt.fiction might well be a place for you to start.