SCBWI Conference Report: The Power of Self-Definition

Hello, everyone! I have a guest post today over at Kourtney Heintz’s blog, with my thoughts on one of the keynote speeches at the SCBWI 2012 Winter Conference in New York City. Those who follow me on Twitter know I was lucky enough to attend this conference two weeks ago. It was an amazing experience, so I also wanted to post my general impressions of the trip on this blog.

Swag from the conference!

I have to admit, I don’t always think of myself as an aspiring author. I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school, but my goal to become a professional writer is a recent one. So when I signed up for the conference, I was nervous. I even reserved a spot in the Writers’ Roundtable, where the first two pages of my manuscript would be critiqued by professional editors—as well as my fellow writers. Which meant strangers would be reading my work. Talented strangers with OPINIONS, most of which I assumed would be negative. I spent the night before my flight to New York having a nervous breakdown—and rewriting the first two paragraphs of my story from scratch.

Well, you can probably guess how this story ends. The conference was wonderful. Having my manuscript critiqued (and marked up by senior editors from Random House and G.P. Putnam’s Sons!) was a privilege and a great help. The attendees at my table complimented my work, which was a pleasant surprise. But more importantly, I had a great time. I met writers from around the country, brilliant people who understood the joy of storytelling and the frustration of revising and the pain of rejection. I read several promising manuscripts, and heard advice from some of the greatest professionals in the children’s book industry… Professionals who had a hand in publishing Harry Potter and Goosebumps and The Babysitter’s Club. Professionals who, in other words, were directly responsible for a good portion of my childhood.

I also went to see Seminar, a witty and provocative play about writing. It starred Alan Rickman as a sharp-tongued teacher of the craft. (Hilarious, and appropriate after a day of critiques! Also, ALAN RICKMAN. Enough said.) On the last day of the conference, Cassandra Clare signed my copy of Clockwork Prince. She asked what kind of stories I wrote, and I was able to thank her for writing a Victorian fantasy series.

Fan art for Leanna!

I gave this fan art to Leanna on Sunday. The characters are from her gorgeous YA novel Darker Still. She even posted it on her blog!

Best of all, I spent Sunday afternoon with my favorite author, Leanna Renee Hieber. I tend to gush about Leanna, because I am hopelessly in love with her books. (I recommend them to everyone I know. Since you are visiting my blog, that now includes you!) She is also extremely kind and generous. She showed me around the East Village, which I had never visited, and we discussed our latest projects. To talk about writing with my favorite author not only as a fan, but as a fellow creator, was the most thrilling experience in my career to date.

So what I learned from my first SCBWI conference was this: If you want to be an author, treat yourself like one. Go to conferences, and network like any other professional. Introduce yourself, and be brave. Open yourself up to criticism. Talk about writing. Put your money where your dream is. Get a website. Make some business cards. Join a writing organization like SCBWI and make friends. I know these things aren’t easy to do, especially for introverted people like me. So why do I recommend them so heartily?

Simple. Because I did them, and wonderful things happened. Things I only dreamed were possible, things I never really dared to imagine.

So did I get discovered by an agent or editor at my first SCBWI conference? No, I didn’t, but I’m not disappointed in the least. Instead, I learned something important, something I should have known from the start: I am a writer. I already am the person I want so badly to become. Knowing that, I will do whatever it takes to realize my dream, no matter how long the wait. I hope you won’t hesitate to do the same, whenever opportunity crosses your path.

Now, back to another round of revisions!