When I got serious about writing for children, I joined the SCBWI, participated in critique groups, and used social media. I attended the annual conference in Los Angeles. What have I found? You guessed it! Community, camaraderie, and comedy. This last bit was the best surprise. Every keynote was the perfect combination of informative, inspiring, and really really funny! Adam Rex, for example, shared a rap he wrote, the end of which goes like this: “Where my boys at? The library. Cuz my books get so much Richard, it’s Scary!” Ha! Also, Lin Oliver, co-founder of SCBWI, who presented everything, is HILARIOUS every time she takes the stage.
Also surprising, given the difficulty of getting published, was that it didn’t feel like a room full of people who all wanted the same book contract, the same agent; it felt like a room full of people who all wanted to write amazing stories, who cared about kids, who cared about art, and diversity, and who understand the power of a book.
I kept thinking what lucky kids we have, to be in the hands of such wonderful minds. I also kept thinking how lucky I was. Despite long flights, long drives, and long days of sitting, the authors and illustrators, as well as editors and agents, made me feel energized and invigorated to improve my craft, to improve the world.
So this blog is basically a thank you to and an advertisement for the SCBWI in general and the conference specifically. What a wonderful chance to bring us all together. Go, go, go, if you can! To laugh. To learn. To share joy. To dance. And yes, to sparkle and shine. During the party Saturday night, the song came on that goes “this is the moment/Tonight is the night/we’ll fight 'til it’s over/So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us/Like the ceiling can’t hold us.” It struck me that I was surrounded by sparkly and shiny people, professionals, creatives, adults, all dancing and jumping with their hands in the air, some wearing tinfoil. under the warm Los Angeles sky. Because the ceiling can’t hold us.
Here is just a handful of informative and inspirational quotes from the conference:
Mem Fox: “Would a child give a damn about this story?”
Meg Wolitzer: “Only write about what’s important to you.”
Adam Rex: “I think in a completely mature society, we would have picture books for every age.” Also: “Everybody deserves art that is made for them.”
Dan Santat: “Don’t ever ask yourself ‘Can I sell that?’ You won’t make art that’s true to you.”
Kwame Alexander: “Our worlds are more diverse than we’re giving credit to on the page.”
Varian Johnson: “The hard is what makes it great.”
Mem Fox (again): “I didn’t know what a story arc was until about 3 years ago. Just write the damn story.”
Lastly, running is not about winning; it's about running. One author, and sadly I forget who, said something about not pinning your success on when you get an agent/contract/bestseller/the next big thing. Remember instead that "the work is the joy. You've already succeeded." Writing is not about publishing; it's about writing.