Monday, May 6, 2013

NESCBWI 2013 – What it Meant to Me


Me with Sharon Creech.

I attended the New England chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference (say that 3 times fast) this weekend.

Each year, I grow as a writer.

Each year, the conference has a different meaning for me.

The first time, I went with a friend and stayed for one day. I didn’t even stay overnight. I saw agent Stephen Fraser speak and dared to speak to him afterwards.

The following year, I went alone and stayed for two days. I had my first critique with an editor (it didn’t go well—I’d made my middle grade protagonist 9). I found 1 friend in the bar.

I still hang out with her each year.

Through her, I’ve met people. Through me, she’s met people.

At some point, I began to volunteer. Between volunteering and meeting people through blogging and Facebook, my circle of friends expanded. I’ve had the same roommate for 3 years. She even drives me to the conference.

 (Thanks, Judy Mintz!) 


My writing got better, so my critiques became more positive.

I’ve stopped sweating before I sit in front of an agent or editor.

Writers are rock stars to me. This conference has given me many opportunities to meet them.

In years past, faculty, organizers, agents, and editors sat at reserved tables. This year, the signs on the tables were gone. This meant all of us could sit anywhere. Since two writers whom I greatly admire were speaking that day, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

On Saturday morning I sat in the front. Since I was supposed to help for Sharon Creech's  keynote, I introduced myself to her. She joined my table. After the initial “OhMyGodSharonCreechIsTalkingToMe—ActNormal” wore off, I enjoyed the conversation. Turns out she lives near my dad, so we had a lot to talk about.

My favorite line came from Sharon’s Creech’s closing:

"Whatever words you have to say, may you have the good fortune to say them to a child."


At lunchtime, keynote speaker and author/illustrator Grace Lin  sat with us. I didn’t get say much to her, but I did talk to her husband and got her baby to smile.

My favorite line from Grace Lin:

"If your work is as true to yourself as possible, then you've created something no one else in the world can."

This weekend, Jo Knowles received the Crystal Kite Award. The honor moved her to tears. She said:

“I hope my 10-year journey will inspire you to keep on the path. The journey to publication can be achingly ‘meandering’. But please don't measure time as an indicator of your success. Instead, use each day to improve your craft. Use each conference to make new friends. Appreciate your mentors and be a mentor yourself.” 


This resonated with me. Not only did I realize there’s no expiration date on becoming a published author, but that I truly belong. When I saw Jo in the elevator later, I thanked her.  Here’s her whole speech. 

Note: Jo’s been a conference attendee for 17 YEARS.

This year, I became more social and comfortable. No longer do I walk into a room and wonder where I’ll sit or whom to talk to. No longer do I need the safety net of a handful of writer friends I’ve accumulated. Now I just go and talk. To everyone.

When authors sign my books, I no longer squeak a few words of adoration or only manage, “Thank you.” I just talk to them. 

I realized I’m no longer an outsider—I’m a part of the fabric of the conference. And I want to do even more next year. Attending is not just about attending workshops. My learning needs have changed. Established authors feel more like cohorts, even if their career is ahead of mine. I don’t need to be intimidated by agents and editors.  I belong.

This means that just connecting with the writers, agents, and editors is as valuable as furiously copying notes at every workshop. It’s only 3 days each year. It’s not school, so I’m no longer rushing to bed to be fresh in the morning. I don’t want to miss anything. There are a handful of committed people who organize and run this conference. SCBWI, especially the New England Branch, has been pivotal to my writing progress. I want to give back even more.



Do you attend conferences?
What do you expect from conferences?
What do conferences mean to you?

76 comments:

  1. Great post, and I am so glad you went and became rejuvenated when I think you needed it most. Sometimes life is like that and I am so happy for you! :)

    Angela

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    1. Angela, thank you. You know how love I've been. I'm going to try to hold onto this feeling the next time I get a rejection or something else that causes those doubts to creep in.

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  2. How wonderful! I love how you've morphed into a confident writer. And SHARON CREECH! I squealed when I saw it on FB. In fact, I told my 8th graders today that I knew someone who'd met Sharon Creech (we just finished one of her novels) and they were duly impressed.

    So glad you went!

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    1. Shelly, it was hard not to squeal. The person who introduced her pretty much did squeal. During breakfast, I didn't talk to her about being an author at all. After her keynote during the Q&A, I asked her how she transitioned from being a teacher to being a writer. Not until I had her sign my book did I tell her how much I loved Walk two Moons and that we always read Love that Dog in the fifth grade. I didn't mention that just thinking about Love that Dog makes me cry.

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  3. I saw your picture on Facebook with Sharon Creech. How awesome!

    (Never mind that 13 years ago, a parent threatened to take me to the school board and have me fired for giving her daughter a Sharon Creech book to read which had -- in the parent's mind -- an immoral situation that children should never be exposed to. That's not really Sharon's fault ... but I never really got over it, either.)

    I have never been to a conference, but I certainly hope to attend a few in the year I take a sabbatical -- if that happens -- PLEASE let that happen ...

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    1. Dianne, that must've been awful. Educators are put under way too much pressure. If a book is marketed in that child's age range, it should be fine to hand a child a book. Which book was it? Oh, I hope you get to take a sabbatical and attend a conference.

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  4. I love this story!!!!! And it's so much like my own. <3 I'm so glad you weren't too shy to say hi to sometimes too-shy me. And now we're friends too. Yay!

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    1. Jo, thank you. The next time you take a survey of people in the audience who know you, I'll be able to raise my hand. :)

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  5. Sounds like a wonderful conference, and I love your story of growth.

    I get what you mean. I feel like I belong, too.

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    1. M Pax, that's good to hear. Do you attend conferences?

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  6. It takes persistence and a good attitude. You've got both!

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    1. C Lee, thank you. I know how hard you work at your writing career.

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  7. Sounds like an amazing time! And it sounds like you are a pro now.
    I really like Grace Lin's quote.
    It doesn't matter the time taken or how far along one is in the journey. We are all in this journey together.

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    1. Alex's Grace Lin's speech was so interesting. She spent her childhood not identifying as Chinese. Then she explained her journey to find out who she was. When Grace began exploring her heritage through literature, she was told if she did too many Chinese books she'd be labeled "multicultural" and never sell a lot of books. Then her book about a Chinese girl wound up winning a huge award and was read by boys and girls of various cultures and So that's where her quote comes from.

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  8. Love what Sharon wrote on her book for you Theresa!! It's brilliant how you are more and more involved with this fab writerly conference - the atmosphere sounds electric! It's so your second home and very supportive family!
    Yay! Take care
    x

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    1. Old Kitty, it's a good thing I didn't have her write my name in the copy of Hat that Cat. Imagine??? (I swear, the boy doesn't really hate that cat.)

      It is an electric atmosphere. Have you ever attended a writing conference?

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  9. Remember the 'time' conversation we had? I feel much better about that after having read this.

    I love conferences. Ours is in September. On my birthday every year.

    SHARON CREECH!!!! You're chuffed. Come on. I know you are. I told you that you would be famous soon. (You're on your way, pal) Hugs and I have a question? Can I have your autograph? ;-) xoxo

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    1. Robyn, I DO remember the conversation we had. We now know a few people who stuck it out a decade.

      Attending a conference is wonderful way to celebrate your birthday.

      I'm sure I'll be asking for your autograph before you'll need mine! I'd be chuffed.

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  10. Well said, Theresa. I completely agree and need to email Jo to tell her that when she gave her speech, the part about not knowing anyone to knowing so many people was about me, too.

    I kept wanting to say hello to you but for whatever reason kept getting sidetracked. Why? I know so many people at the conference now, who support me and come to day hello, that I seem to skip from one conversation to another.

    Like you, I'm "pre-published" (or to quote Papa J "PIMD- Published In My Dreams :) I was a presenter this year, though, and when I looked out into the audience there were like 10 people there who I already knew...I felt like they were all sitting there encouraging me. KidLit peeps are the BEST.

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    1. Michelle, the same thing happened to me. By Sunday, there were a few people I meant to talk to, but I never got a chance. I agree. I love the KidLit community.

      Were you there on Sunday when the woman asked them to hold the door prize because her friend was nursing and couldn't claim it. There was a collective, "Aww." I don't think that would happen everywhere.

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    2. I missed that, though it doesn't surprise me.

      And Hey, look... we just met-on the internets- not in person, but I'm counting it! :)

      I have a post about the conference that will go live tomorrow morning if you want to read it.

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    3. Michelle, I liked your post! Thanks for telling me.

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    4. You're welcome. Thanks for reading.

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  11. I'm so happy you had such an amazing time! I am going next year. Promise!! We'll finally see each other. Thank you for sharing this. Totally inspires me!

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    1. SA Larsen, you said that last year. I'm holding you to it next year!

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  12. This is so great Thersa! You found your mojo so bravo!
    And that Grace Lin quote is so what I needed to hear in regards to my latest work. More meaning than you will ever know. :)

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    1. Pk, I'm glad the quote helped you. I give more detail about Grace Lin's talk in my reply to Alex above. There are so many people who defied what they were told was the right thing to do and the right path to take. And those are the people who seem to go on to accomplish great things. So why are we all trying to fit in these cookie-cutter molds?

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  13. Sounds like you had a great time.

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  14. So awesome that you had such an inspiring time. I would have loved to sit at lunch with Grace Lin. You're making me want to go to a conference soon.

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    1. Natalie, you should go to a conference soon. The day I go home, I'm already ready looking forward to the next one. Just about 362 more days...

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  15. Wonderful post Theresa! It's been great hanging out and growing with you all these years. And yes,it's wonderful how the circle expands, rippling outward each year. A toast to the NE-SCBWI conference and writers everywhere!

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    1. Donna, you too! You were my first NE-SCBWI friend. I'm glad you commented here! If you had a blog, I would've named and linked you too. Cheers! It's nice to see you outside of the conference too.

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  16. You were there, too! Seriously, I think I'm going to have to go to this one next year. Not close to me (anymore), but so many people I'd love to meet there (like you).

    I have come a long way since my first conference, but I'm not quite to the point you are. Getting there. One conference at a time! :)

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    1. Janet, the NE one is the biggest regional one in the country. I went to the NY one years ago, but I like this one better. It seems smaller, the critique offerings are better and more reasonably priced, and the speakers they get are amazing.

      Yes, one conference at a time. I think this is my 7th one. It's taken me this long to get this comfortable.

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  17. That sounds like so much fun! I'd love to attend some conferences. One day I'll have the time and money to do so. I really like reading about everyone else's experiences, though.

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    1. Christine, it is an expense. It's the only one I do each year, and I try to plan for it. I hope you get to attend one soon.

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  18. Nice wrap up! And what a great lesson to have taken away from the conference. There's nothing quite so great as feeling like you belong. Oh, and my brother-in-law just moved back to NYC, so I now have a prayer of making it up that direction in the future for events. ;)

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    1. Crystal, thank you. I'm sure you'd love to come up to NYC again. I would assume you have places everywhere to stay since everyone seems to visit you!

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  19. It sounds like you had an amazing conference. I always leave these conferences exhausted but completely inspired. And like you, writers are rock stars to me. :D
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Nutschell, you're better about taking pictures. I vow to do better next time.

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  20. what an awesome, inspiring story by Jo and it sounds like you had a fantastic time! I haven't had such great luck with conferences, but I've had wonderful meet-ups with writer friends I've met right here through blogging.

    You're right--writers are heroes. For bravery alone! :o) <3 ((hugs))

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    1. LTM, we are a brave bunch. We keep sending things out, hoping for validation. It can be dream-crushing.

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  21. It's great that you've gained so much self-confidence through attending conferences and interacting with other writers and industry people. I'd love to join SCBWI, though at the moment, the steep membership price isn't on budget for me.

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    1. Carrie-Anne, it can be expensive, but the good thing is I save that much in the conference fee by being a member.

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  22. I loved reading this! Makes me want to get back into going to conferences again. I haven't been in... 3 or 4 years. Grace Lin!!!!

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    1. Margo, conferences are so energizing. Yes, GRACE LIN!

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  23. Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Theresa! I've attended one conference so far, here in Montreal. I'd love to go to more... I still get mad at myself when I think how I could have gone to see - and maybe meet?! - Paul Auster at a festival here, and chickened out because it meant attending alone. Volunteering sounds like a great way to become part of the fabric of a conference and feel less nervous!

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    1. Deniz, I know what you mean. It's painful for me when I don't know anyone. I am trying to get over it. Yes, volunteering helps a lot. People seek you out for answers. It's nice to know you can be a resource for people who may be more nervous than you.

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  24. It sounds like you had a super time. Congratulations on all the progress you have made as a writer and conference attendee. WTG!

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  25. I keep telling myself I'm going to attend more conferences. The one and only I did attend I participated as a writer, then met Dean Koontz and Henry Winkler.

    So writers conferences are definitely worth attending!

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    1. Stephen, yes, conferences are definitely worth attending!

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  26. i haven't attended one, but gesh! you make them sound great!!

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    1. Tammy, they are! The day after its over, I can't believe I have to wait a year for the next one.

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  27. What a wonderful experience. I attend local conferences, but I'd love to go to other SCBWI conferences in other states. The energy is amazing and I learn so much.

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    1. Medeia, I found out we have the largest regional conference in the country. That's why we get such quality stuff for a regional. Or maybe I'm biased...

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  28. Hi Theresa .. I can understand your process here - I'd be the same ... so pleased that you're enjoying what you're learning - the quotes you've given us make sense don't they .. there's no timetable for anyone - we do what we can, enjoy the writing and keep on writing ..

    Lucky you to have been a part once again .. one day you'll be one of the stars - I'm sure of it .. volunteering is a major part of the process too ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary, thank you for your confidence in me. The conference helped pull me out of a dark place. As a result, I've been extra-productive this week. Cheers to you.

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  29. What a wonderful post, Theresa! I could feel your enthusiasm and it made me want to go to another SCBWI conference ASAP. : ) I love these conferences. There is always so much to learn, so many great people to meet, and lots of fun. And you had the opportunity to meet Sharon Creech, too. I love her books.

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    1. Cynthia, yes, go to another conference! I always get so much out of it on so many levels. Every year, I look forward to it.

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  30. Theresa, how wonderful! I loved hearing about your experience at this conference. It sounds like you got some really valuable advice out of it. The quotes you shared are fantastic. It makes me want to attend one myself! I need to make some solid plans!

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    1. Julie, yes, make solid plans. Other than the expense, there's no downside to attending a conference.

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  31. I always receive awesome information and inspiration when I attend conferences. It was great to meet you in Springfield, Theresa!

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    1. Victoria, I enjoyed hanging out with you at lunch. I'm glad you were inspired--you came a long way.

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  32. In addition to everything else it is, this conference seems like a pretty cool measuring stick for how far you have come as a writer.

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    1. Missed Periods, I think you're right. Next year, I want to relax more.

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  33. Sounds like you had a fab time! For me, conferences are mainly about chatting to other writers. I love the camaraderie.

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    1. Talli, you've got a nice career going for yourself. I'm glad you can relax and enjoy the camaraderie.

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  34. Sounds such a lovely time! I would love to go but unfortunately have to travel out of country for writer's conferences. And this is not possible all the time.

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    1. Nas, it was a lovely time! Didn't you recently attend a conference in Australia?

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  35. I've never been to conference, I'd like to though. It looks exciting. i'm glad you traced your early day nerves for us Theresa, and your more recent confidence - its inspiring, esp for some one who choses the couch over out nine times out of ten :)

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    1. Niamh, you're not doing too badly yourself. I can't wait to feature your book here next month. I like that it's been published by Penguin Ireland. Something catchy about that.

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  36. Ha! I love the signed book! And I love the reminder that we shouldn't use time as an indicator of our success.

    And yes, everything you write puts you that step closer to your dream :)

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    1. Lynda, I should chant this: everything you write puts you that step closer to your dream :)

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  37. Oh my gosh, I almost went to this conference this year but I couldn't figure out travel! (A friend was willing to drive but she lives quite far from me and it just didn't work out.) Maybe I'll meet you there next year!! Sharon Creech is one of my children's writer idols. I feel so happy you got to talk to her. Wow. And the line you quoted from her speech made my heart stop for a minute. How beautifully true. Thanks for recapping your experience : )

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