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.

Write/edit/revise/repeat

First of all, May the Fourth be with you!

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Yes, my droid wears a top hat. He is fancy.

Second, it’s been a busy month.

I wanted to revise my MG novel-in-progress so that I could submit the revised version for a critique at the upcoming NJSCBWI conference. My beta readers had given me great feedback, I’d done some more research, and I knew a whole lot of things I needed to add. Meantime, I also had my usual daily and weekly deadlines for the various editing and writing projects that make up my day job. So I worked on those projects during the day, then revised the novel at night. All month.

This was a fairly doable thing. It was a matter of mindset, and minding the time. I’d spend mornings on one article or editing gig, break for lunch, switch gears to another project, then switch gears again at night and work on the novel. Working on one thing continuously for all that time might have gotten exasperating, but flipping to different projects kept me sharp.

I don’t think multitasking actually exists, at least the way people think of when they use the term. But I think you can finish anything if you work on it an hour (or two) at a time.

I made all my deadlines, including the submission date for SCBWI, and then I spent a day remembering what TV looks like.

And then I flipped back to the first draft of another novel-in-progress. But now I get to take my time a little more.

Talking to writers

For the first time, I set up shop at a writers conference as an editor-for-hire, claiming a table at the recent New Jersey Romance Writers’ Trade Expo. And it was fun.

I wasn’t able to attend the actual conference (next year!) but looking over the schedule, I was struck by how similar the workshops were to what I’d seen at other conferences: focusing on plot and characterization, marketing your work, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. And the other conferences I’ve attended have been either general/all genres, or kidlit-specific.

I opted for candy over swag, per the suggestion of Jennifer Lawler, whose developmental editing classes I’ve been taking through the Editorial Freelancers Association (I highly recommend her classes, and she’s fun to follow on Twitter, too: @JenniferLawler). But I decided to have some fun with it and set out three bowls: regular candy, nut-free candy, and sugar-free candy, with the sign “An editor checks the details.” It got a couple of laughs, which was what I wanted. (For the record, no one took the sugar-free candy.) I had leftovers, but conveniently it’s Halloween, and we get a crowd of trick-or-treaters.

I did worry that I would be sitting there the whole time staring nervously into space, but a steady stream of people stopped to say hello and take my info. And it struck me all over again how universal the conference experience is for writers. I asked everyone how the conference had gone for them, and I got the expected range of answers. One attendee pitched a few manuscripts and had gotten five requests, which is amazing. Another was at her first conference ever and had developed a bit of a deer-in-headlights look; I told her to go relax and take in everything she’d learned. I loved hearing about everyone’s successes, what they were working on, what they were doing next.

The whole experience was a useful reminder that we’re all learning the same things, no matter what we write, and no one is going to understand the process better than another writer.

It was a nice time, and I do appreciate the NJRW for having me. I hope the attendees have success stories to share next year, and I hope to be there to hear them.

Recapping NJSCBWI17

I love this conference. It’s so friendly and informative. I see friends, I walk away with story and revision ideas, I get to admire amazing artwork and I get to buy people’s books. Entirely a win-win.

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What I bought at the conference. Missing: Robin Newman’s “The Case of the Poached Egg.” My son poached it.

OK, also I love that there are so many great kidlit resources in my own state. That is highly convenient and proof that New Jersey is a superior place to live. Don’t believe the jokes.

Conference workshops included in-depth discussions on creating characters of a different race or ethnicity (short answer: you absolutely can, just do the research and avoid tropes); on using white space and text placement to pace the emotion in a picture book; on solving problems in a story by looking elsewhere in the text for the answer; on being your true (and gracious!) self on social media; on how to build your story’s world without info-dumping; and on why you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your agent.

I enjoyed Gabriela Pereira’s workshop on middle grade and YA novels so much, I went and bought her “DIY MFA” book conveniently just as she was walking into the book fair area. It’s nice to be able to tell someone, “Hey, I’m buying your book, thanks for your help!”

Really the best part of the conference is being around other creative people, all of whom are trying to accomplish the same thing you’re trying to accomplish, all of whom care deeply about quality children’s literature. People have a way of cheering each other on that I think might not be typical of other corners of the publishing world.

It was also entertaining to share a hotel with — I think — two weddings and two proms in one weekend. (Side note: Prom dresses are so much more sophisticated than when I was in high school. Slightly jealous.) A bridesmaid was overheard asking if she was allowed to have some of our coffee. I hope she went for it — we had plenty!

And now on to rereading my notes and revising manuscripts.