Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Event Wrap-Up: February 22, 2014 SCBWI Japan Writers’ Day

SCBWI Japan Writers' Day: Jazz It Up! Writing Today for Children and Young Adults  

Guest post by Colleen Sakurai, Akiya, Kanagawa, Japan


I’m always excited to be able to spend a day focused entirely on the writing craft, where I can share information about children’s literature with like minds. I was especially looking forward to Jazz it Up! Writing Today for Children and Young Adults, held at Yokohama International School. I was not disappointed.

The morning opened with participants receiving and sharing work submitted to Anna Olswanger, literary agent at Liza Dawson Associates, and Andrea Welch, Senior Editor at Beach Lane Books, as part of the Distance Critique Opportunity. I hadn’t sent work in for feedback, but I was riveted by the feedback shared by those who did. As the brave writers shared their critiques with the group, I found it interesting how often we tend to focus on the negative, even while also receiving positive comments. Of course, we learn more from “constructive” criticisms, but it was still an eye-opener.

Following the critiques was a pre-recorded video message by author and publisher Andrea Davis Pinkney in which she outlined five major stepping stones in the writing process: 

     *Write every day! Every single day!

     *Read every day.

     *Become a scholar of the genre.

     *"Kill the committee." (The committee that lurks in your brain and tells you that you are unworthy, that is!)

     *Feel good about what you're doing. Think of the end use. Be excited, ignited, inspired—and stay on the journey!

She also spoke about the huge obligation we have as writers to take kids by the hand, and by the collar, if need be, and the importance of telling old stories in a new way. Andrea’s message was so inspiring. I want to be her!

After Andrea signed off, we gathered in the back of the room, where SCBWI Japan Assistant RA Mariko Nagai had collected a rich display of picture books for us to peruse with Andrea’s points in mind. It was nice to see these principles put into play in the final products. A lively discussion followed as we took turns reviewing each published book to see how it fit into Andrea’s framework.


Lunchtime arrived. A group of us had pasta in Motomachi, and it was a miracle that our group of ten could be seated together during the typical Saturday lunch rush. SCBWI veterans sat side by side with new writer friends; a shared common bond in writing was all that was needed to spark conversation and laughter. 


The break was followed by an inspiring panel discussion on Things Learned Along the Way to Publication with YA authors Leza Lowitz, Suzanne Kamata, and Mariko Nagai. RA Holly Thompson contributed via message. While listening to their individual stories, I was struck by what they had in common—all these published authors wrote and rewrote for years and years before their books came to print. Staying the course pays off.

Next, Wouter Laleman, elementary school librarian of the American School in Japan, offered an entertaining, interactive presentation on author school visits. He spoke specifically about what schools want from visiting authors and how authors are chosen. His presentation covered a variety of writers and detailed their unique visits. It was wonderful to see the different approaches a writer can take to share his/her work at a school. 


The SCBWI Japan Writers' Day was a very full day that more than delivered on its promise to “jazz up” our writing and publishing. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

Colleen Sakurai has been a member of SCBWI since 2010 and thanks the Universe every day for the inspiration and friendship it has brought her.