September Creative Exchange
Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan
On September 9, 2018, SCBWI members and non-members got together in the second of our three annual creative exchange sessions. This is an opportunity to share current works in progress (WIP) with the aim of giving and receiving feedback. We welcomed many familiar faces and a few new members in a busy and productive session. There were a mix writers and illustrators; picture books, middle grade, and poetry; fiction and creative non-fiction.
Whilst putting your work out there for critique can be nerve wracking, I find the face-to-face nature of these meetings worth the belly full of butterflies. A couple of days prior to the meeting attendees submit their WIP’s which are circulated around the group, allowing everyone the chance to make notes prior to the session. We follow a critique pattern in which the author or illustrator sits quietly for 8 minutes while the rest of the group discusses their work. They then have a couple of minutes to respond to comments or questions raised. It can be somewhat agonizing listening to others discuss your WIP, but often times hearing differing points of view, watching members debate character motivation, consider emotional responses to scenes and illustrations, or pondering plot lines can result in those ‘aha!’ moments for the author or illustrator. There are of course downsides, perhaps someone didn’t get the humor of your story or the story arc didn’t seem strong enough. Whilst this can wound the ego they are important lessons. I know that if I have to explain too much about my story or defend my characters actions vigorously, it’s a signal that my writing is not clear enough yet.
Our more experienced members are on-hand to provide guidance and some valuable industry know-how. Moreover, the unique makeup of our group, with its mix of nationalities and languages, enables attendees to take advantage of a broad spectrum of knowledge, helping to counter stereotypes, provide authentic view points or verify specific details. Everyone brings something to the table, whether in the form of broad comments about the whole manuscript through to particular writing points. Similarly, with illustrations, consideration of the overall composition down to details regarding color choice are discussed.
It can sometimes be too easy to focus on things we might think needs changing, so it’s equally important to identify what we like about each of the works up for discussion. This maybe a phrase or style of writing that stands out in a manuscript, perhaps an intriguing character that you want to know more about. What is often commented on is the uniqueness of a storyline or style of illustration. These get-togethers are far more than critique sessions. They are truly rooted in the idea of a creative exchange, providing inspiration for your own work, as well as a lot of fun.
If you would like join us, the next creative exchange will be in December. Please check the SCBWI Japan calendar japan.scbwi.org for this and other upcoming events.
Mari Boyle is a writer and a teacher.
Photos by Holly Thompson.