On my way to my first writers’ conference ever, the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA, I was stoked and ready for anything, with my “elevator pitch” memorized. I thought that there was a chance I might meet up with my dream agent in a serendipitous creative connection that would launch me on my writing career. I also knew that this was a very, very slight chance. I’m a dreamer but I’m also a realist.
So when I learned that we were not allowed to approach the agents or editors with pitches, cards or even chocolate… I understood. I watched as one writer ignored the clear directions and tried to hand a manuscript to an editor who politely but firmly said that the rules (which had just been reiterated) applied to everyone. She did not take the manuscript. All contacts had to be made via email. So now, weeks later, and many edits later, I am beginning to submit queries and manuscripts as directed.
The content that poured into my writer’s soul during those few days in August is hard to distill, but here are a few morsels gleaned from the presentations by agents and authors that gave me sustenance:
Advice that was repeated more than once included the need to make the reader care. An author needs to create a heart connection between the reader and the book’s protagonist. We have to understand and buy into the motivation and the needs of the book’s main actor. That connection will pull the reader through the story with all of its twists and turns to the final conclusion.
Daniel José Older reminded us that “the rhythm of words matters.” Rhythm was emphasized again when Brian Pinkney picked up his drum sticks and showed us a bit of his rhythmic creative process. We were reminded by several presenters that every word counts. This is especially true when writing picture books where text is used sparingly.
We learned that editors want to know why your book is what is missing in the world. They need a compelling reason to take on your book. As writers, we should know our audience and grade level; we should research curriculum standards. Writers need to understand that a book has to sell; it has to be financially compelling to a publisher. In the writing business persistence is important. Writers write every single day. Editors respect authors who work hard to adapt and change and polish.
We were reminded by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that writing is never easy. As a writer, you are called to “share the shards of yourself.” Lynda said that “writing might have to be painful to be truthful. Sometimes truth is a catharsis that feels painful at the moment.” She added, “We need to remember that we work for the children. They need us to care more about them than our careers and ourselves.” At the end of her talk she challenged us, “What will your legacy be? Will you fight to make a difference? Change your wishes into goals. Nothing is accomplished without acting.”
Inspiration builds motivation muscles. So that is why I am, once again, trying to write every day, even if it is just a few words while riding the train. And this is why I am persisting in submitting manuscripts (after doing my research) to editors who might love them. If I persist, one day I might get an agent. I might get a book published. And pigs might fly… if I give them wings. This motivation to try even when it feels impossible keeps me going. Ideas and dreams are even pushing me beyond writing into the daunting process of creating an NPO that just might make the world better for a large group of children in Japan who deserve good books, delightful interactions and a bright future. I’ll let you know what comes of it. I may not succeed in my endeavors, but I do know this: children are always worth writing for and fighting for.
On a lighter note, I did get to meet Leslie Helakoski, the author of one of my favorite read-alouds, “Woolbur.” She was thrilled to see me and my library lamb puppet, dressed up as the free-spirited Woolbur at the writer’s ball on Sunday night. Of course we took pictures and we had a blast. My first conference was stressful, overwhelming, challenging, but totally worth it. Maybe I’ll see you at the next one! Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud is a children’s poet, storyteller, teacher and puppeteer. She writes science-spiced poems about animals to entertain and educate, posting in her website BelovedOfBeasts.com. Her poetry has been published in Cricket magazine.
Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud is a children’s poet, storyteller, teacher and puppeteer. She writes science-spiced poems about animals to entertain and educate, posting in her website BelovedOfBeasts.com. H
Scribbled Takeaways from SCBWI LA 2018
by Holly Thompson
After a three year hiatus, I was fortunate to attend the SCBWI LA Summer Conference once again–for training sessions and volunteering in my SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor capacity, and as a participant in the conference and Pro-Track intensive.
And what a conference, with nearly 1,200 attending from 18 countries and 48 US states! For the full run-down of the conference, including highlights of sessions and keynotes, see the many posts on the SCBWI Conference Blog.
Below are a few quotes from the pages of notes I scribbled throughout the conference, plus a few pics.
Andrea Davis Pinkney, author, editor: “Everyone–write your own Dear Diversity letter and write what your own commitments to diversity will be.”
Daniel José Older, author: “Stories are what will save us; votes are not enough. You are changing the world no matter what stories you write.”
Elana K. Arnold, author: “If we don’t let kids feel unsafe in a book, how will they know how to deal with feeling unsafe in the real world?”
Ibi Zoboi, author: “Storytellers have a knack for telling other people’s stories–we are telling the stories of people who are around us and those who aren’t. It takes deep self-reflection about what we are seeing in the world–every day. The questions must be ongoing.”
Deborah Heiligman, nonfiction author: “Take “Oh, wow!” notes when researching. Then hide those notes when writing your first draft,” and “When you write fiction, you are a sculptor starting with clay. When you write nonfiction, it’s like you’re cutting marble to find the sculpture.”
Libba Bray, author: “Good books are humanity manuals.”
Alexandra Penfold, agent, author: “A picture book is like a rubix cube.”
Mike Curato, author/illustrator: “Be a friend to yourself–have fun.”
Tina Dubois, agent: “Going through my inbox is like browsing in a bookshop–what do I want to read today?”
Kevin Lewis, author/agent: “Don’t isolate yourself–you’ll get vision from being out in the community finding things in the world that you want to change. Expand your field of vision.”
Lois Lowry, author: Re. writing for children: “I don’t think there is anything that shouldn’t be written about –the darkness exists all around.” And re. fiction writing: “Boldly go forth into the unknown. Then boldly go back to rework.”
Laura Godwin, editor: “Bad things can happen in publishing. But you can handle them!”
SCBWI is such a supportive global community for writers, illustrators, translators, agents and editors to connect and learn from each other. I’m always inspired after being immerses in this community that creates for children and teens and believes deeply in the power of children’s literature.
Thank you for a great conference @SCBWI !
Holly Thompson is co-Regional Advisor of SCBWI Japan. She teaches and writes–picture books, middle grade and YA, both prose and poetry. Visit her website at www.hatbooks.com.