Why Writing Conferences Are Priceless

Writing is solitary. Just us with a computer and a head of ideas. But we’re not really alone. And going to a writing conference is a wonderful way to celebrate that.

Of course, seminars at writing conferences are great learning opportunities. Query letters, characters, plot, dialog — I’ve learned about all these at conferences. But as I’ve become more experienced, I still come away from conferences filled with inspiration.

And then there are the friends you make. Priceless.

As a children’s book writer, I feel very lucky to be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve attended both national and regional conferences held by this organization, and I’m never disappointed.

If you’re a member of the SCBWI, take advantage of the conferences. The national ones are huge, overwhelming, intense, exhausting and fabulous.

The regional ones are just as fabulous, but, because they’re smaller, they also have more intimacy and give more opportunity for networking with agents and editors. For example, I’m lucky to live in an area that has four regionals conferences yearly that are within a five-hour drive (thank you, Austin) and check out the people I’ll have the opportunity to meet next year at just the Austin and Houston conferences:

At Austin (Feb. 8-10, 2013):

  • Crystal Kite Award-winning illustrator Patrice Barton
  • Author Shutta Crum
  • Author and Agent John M. Cusick of Scott Treimel NY
  • Agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary Studio
  • Peachtree Publishers Associate Publisher Kathy Landwehr
  • New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Award-winning author Cynthia Levinson
  • Award-winning author-illustrator E.B. Lewis
  • Agent Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary Agency
  • Roaring Brook Press, Neal Porter Books Editorial Director Neal Porter
  • Caldecott-winning Author Liz Garton Scanlon
  • Chronicle Books Editor Tamra Tuller

At Houston (April 13, 2013):

  • Agent Josh Adams of Adams Literary
  • Author-Illustrator Peter Brown
  • Simon & Schuster and Paula Wiseman Books Art Director Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • ABDO Publishing Editorial Director Stephanie Hedlund
  • Agent Paul Rodeen of Rodeen Literary Management
  • Balzer+Bray Assistant Editor Sara Sargent
  • Simon & Schuster Assistant Editor Danielle Young

But that’s not all. Conferences often also have contests, which are excellent opportunities. At the 2012 Houston SCBWI conference, I won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award and have been working with Newbury Honor author Kathi Appelt for the past year.

As I said, priceless.

What’s your favorite conference story?

Friday High & Low: Great News, Great Advice

I’m starting a new Friday traditional on my blog, the Friday High & Low. Every Friday, I’ll check in and give you my writing high and low for the week.

My high this week, is actually last week’s, but I was too busy to post it then. And I’ve got two:

First, I won the Houston SCBWI Chapter‘s 2012 Joan Lowery Nixon Award. The prize: A year’s mentorship by the awesome and award-winning Kathi Appelt, yep, author of The Underneath and Keeper, as well as a slew of fabulous picture books. What fun!

Second, the first four chapters of my novel Wake was published by Hunger Mountain, the literary journal of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Such an honor! I’m so impressed by all the writers that I’ve met who have gone through the VCFA program. And its Hunger Mountain magazine, both online and in print, is an inspiration to all. Go here to read it and let me know what you think.

My low? All in all it was a good writing week. My low is that I haven’t quite made my 50-page a week revision goal, but I’m close and I think I can make it tomorrow before my time runs out.

Finally, a friend shared some great advice from the storytellers at Pixar. They really know what they’re doing, mixing humor and heart with equal parts action and adventure. There are some real gems here. My favorites are:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

What are your favorites? What’s your high and low for this week?