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.

Hurry up and wait

So here is where my day job conflicts with my fiction writing.

My day job currently consists of writing news and features articles, and editing pieces for various companies. I’ve done the newbie-reporter gig of covering municipal meetings and county fairs, and logged a number of years as a newspaper copy editor. The copydesk edits all articles in the paper, writes the headlines, fine-tunes (or fully creates) the page layout and clears everything to go to press. What does all this have in common? It needs to be done right now. Or ten minutes ago, if you can swing it. Deadline waits for no one. Missing deadline and making the paper late invites capital punishment. Think I’m kidding? Here is the original definition of the word “deadline.”

When I started seriously writing fiction and researching the kidlit industry, imagine my surprise to discover right now is not how it works. Agents and editors don’t want you to rush. They want you to put the story down, give it time, then pick it back up with new eyes so you can revise it properly; if you send them a revision too quickly, they’re liable to decide you took too little time on it and reject it. I was at first baffled by this, then slightly tearing-my-hair-out about it. “But don’t you want it to be done? Isn’t it done now? How long should I be taking to make it done? Arrrrrrgggghhhhhhh.”

It’s taken some practice. But I’ve been getting better at allowing time for breathing room, and letting the story be done when it’s ready to be done. So, don’t make my newbie mistake. Put it down. Give it time. Breathe.

(But if you’ve got a firm deadline, please, don’t blow it.)