Don’t bring this to the writers’ conference

A fellow writer on Twitter last week was looking for advice on how to make the most of  their first SCBWI conference. Plenty of folks had good suggestions. My contribution: Bring a shawl, it’s cold in hotel conference rooms. Because I focus on the logistics of things. And seriously, it’s cold in those conference rooms (even in June!).

But the question got me thinking, especially since registration for NJSCBWI’s conference is coming up this weekend. There are plenty of lists and tips out there about the many things you should bring to a conference (business cards, printout of your workshop schedule, notepads, money for the inevitable book-buying spree), so I thought I’d focus on what not to bring. Here’s what to leave at home:

  • Heels. Unless you’ve found the one miraculously comfortable pair of them in existence. You’ll be speed-walking from workshop to workshop to critique session to group critique session to roundtable to the book sales area to lunch to dinner to whew. Ditch the fancy unwalkable shoes.
  • Adorable small bag. It will adorably fail you. You’ll be toting around notepads, your schedule, manuscripts, workshop handouts, books, business cards, phone, possibly a laptop or tablet, definitely at least five pens, and—as I mentioned—a scarf, sweater, or shawl, in addition to whatever things you normally carry around with you. Which is why you need a tote. But even a tote can’t accommodate the following baggage …
  • Preconceived notions. You don’t know ahead of time how the weekend is going to go. You might get a manuscript request from an agent or editor, but you might not; there are no guarantees. You might see some familiar faces, or you might make some new writer and illustrator friends. You might find the inspiration you’ve been seeking to finish your work-in-progress, or you might inspire someone else to finish theirs. Be prepared for anything.
  • Unhelpful comments. You know the ones. “Oh, I’ve got a great idea for a children’s book! I’m just going to sit down and write it some weekend.” “So you ever going to make any money at this?” “That’s cute you write for kids! But when are you going to write a real book?” “But writing is just your hobby, right?” They’re not useful, they’re not true, you don’t need them. Leave them home, in the trash.
  • Imposter syndrome. Writers, artists, all manner of creative people—no matter their level of experience—play this awful mind trick on themselves: I’ve never done this before, I don’t have an MFA, everyone else has been published or they’ve been writing/drawing longer than me, I’m such a newbie, I’m not successful enough, I don’t belong here. Stop. If you’re taking your craft seriously enough to want to work on it and improve it and connect with other people working on their craft, you belong. Grab your tote and get in there.

If you’re attending a conference this year, I hope you have a wonderful experience and learn many things. And if you’re attending one with me, say hello.

Read Across America Day

I visited my daughter’s school for Read Across America Day, because I will take any opportunity to read to kids. They’re good audiences, and then I get to share picture books I really like. IMG_3285.jpg This year’s selections are to the right.

The kids enjoyed both books.  Their reactions weren’t necessarily what I was expecting, though. For “After the Fall”—a book I absolutely love—I thought the kids would be amazed by the two-page spread at the end, and some of them were, but we also had an entire conversation about egg physics. As in: How come Humpty didn’t totally shatter in the first place? How were they able to put him back together? When I drop an egg, it breaks and you can’t put that back together. If you drop an egg even from this high, it totally breaks. …

I suggested that perhaps Humpty was a stronger egg than he thought he was.

The adorable talking lion statues in “Lost in the Library” were apparently not a problem, from a scientific standpoint. And on the page showing the classic children’s books that one of the lions was reading, the kids correctly guessed the book titles (okay, they needed a little help with “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.” But they got the others).

It was a reminder that you can’t predict readers’ reactions to a book. All you can do is read it, and hope they like it. And not knowing what kids are going to say next is actually half the fun of being around kids.

This might have been my last Read Across America Day. My daughter will be in fifth grade next year, and they might think they’re too old for someone’s mom to come in and read to them.

But who knows? Everyone likes a good story.