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?