Top 3 Things I Learned at SCBWI

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a week since the SCBWI conference ended. Though now that I’ve had a little time to digest all of it, I can whittle down the two-day conference into the top three things I learned.

Try not to confuse the reader. Ummm… yeah. I had a personal critique of a work in progress with Laini Taylor, who was a finalist for the National Book Award and one of the keynote speakers. She was fantastic, gave lots of encouragement but also pointed out where my story had gone from good confusing (ahh… intriguing) to bad confusing (argh… just confusing). Poor Laini. I left her in the weeds. The bigger problem: I’m a repeat offender. I’ve heard this before. I’ll do six or seven drafts of a piece, and by the end of it lose all track of what I’m doing at each point in the story. I told Laini that I need feedback from other readers to identify the confusing bits. “Yup,” she said, “but come on, you can do this without them.” She’s right. I just need to make a point of reading specifically for what I want the reader to know at each point in the story. Laini gave some great pointers along with a bunch of plotting advice that she’s since posted on her blog. Check it out as well as her books. I recently finished Blackbringer which I can sum up in one word: awesome.

Method writing. Sundee Frazier, author of the award-winning Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, had a break out session on writing believable boy characters. There were some ideas on the differences between boys and girls that were interesting, as much for life as for fiction, but she also offered a writing tip which I’ve since come to think of as method writing. When a scene should capture a certain emotion, think back to a spot in your own life where you felt that emotion. Then write it down, get it all on the page in a great non-thinking flurry. Use that as clay that you can mold into something workable for the character. Sundee also thankfully told us that the “sensitive boy and snarky girl” duo have become so commonplace in kidlit that they’re practically a cliché. One of my projects has exactly that in it, and once she pointed out this cliché, it clicked why I’ve been struggling with it.

Enter contests. Jay Asher, bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why gave another keynote speech. He spoke of the ups and downs of his 12-year struggle and the four agents that he worked with until finally landing a publishing deal.  His strategy seemed to involve wearing costumes to writer’s conferences and entering every contest he could find to help build recognition. His speech was heralded as inspirational. I found it just the opposite: depressing. Curse ye fickle publishing industry and how random ye award success! As he was speaking, I thought: I’d give up long before I ever got to that point. I’m doomed. It wasn’t until I got home and was reminded that money and publishing have nothing to do with why I write that I realized two things. First, I have fantastic support for my writing at home. Second, I already gave up writing once. No publisher ever came crashing through my front door to implore me to write. I just started again because I want to write, and that’s what I’m doing. Though that said, I could also start entering contests again too.


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