Action + Meaning from the 16th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference

SCBWI represents those who work in children’s literature, a category often divvied up by age of intended reader. Loose, rough divisions include: Picture Books (4-8 years old); Chapter Books (7-10 years old); Middle Grade (8-12 years old) and Young Adult (14 and up). 

Over two days, I attended two workshops, eight keynotes and a much-welcomed cocktail party. Among the speakers I heard were bestselling authors who also work in television and film (Anthony Horowitz, James Dashner, Lin Oliver), bestselling author/illustrators Herve Tullet, Laura Vaccaro Seeger), a Newbury-winning poet/author (Kwame Alexander), five well-respected, successful editors (Justin Chanda, Laura Godwin, Beverly Horowitz, Stephanie Owens Lurie, Jess Garrison) and four career-making agents (Barry Goldblatt, Jennifer Laughran, Tina Wexler, Heather Alexander).

I recapped the first two takeaways in my previous post. For 3 and 4—read on.

The Action

3. Work begets inspiration. Determination begets luck.

Writers write. And as much as the idea of ‘process’ can make a creative type a little bit crazy, even the most free-spirited creative has a personal process. Laura Vaccaro Seeger shared some really strong tactics regarding journaling and organizing ideas that help solve a process challenge that’s plagued me for years—that alone was, for me, worth the price of admission.

Henry Winkler (The Fonz) at the SCBWI Winter Conference

Henry Winkler (The Fonz) at the SCBWI Winter Conference

Part of process must be persistence. Writing when you’re not inspired. Writing when you don’t feel like it. (Like when you’re on a plane and you’d rather be napping.) Writing and writing and writing.

As Jane Yolen said, “It takes more effort the longer you wait, so don’t keep starting. Just do it.” And James Dashner wraps it up with “If you quit after a year or two, you don’t give yourself the chance to get the lucky breaks.”

No matter your specific work, I think my dad says it best, “There’s not much traffic on the extra mile.”

The Meaning

4.     Business. Inspiration. Work. Why?

Why? Author Kami Garcia knows that finding the right book at the right time can save your life. By writing bravely and truthfully, you can save or change the direction of someone’s life.

You can do the same by writing really good safety content. By helping people to connect with the work they do in the world. By celebrating the value in someone’s contribution. All of our work, writing and other, can help other people. It’s worth doing well.

From a practical standpoint, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier to move people if you know who you’re trying to move. Agent Jess Garrison told the audience to “Be the kid.” If the kid is your audience, be one. If a research chemist is your audience, be one of those. Empathy makes your life richer and your work better. 

One final word—the final word, from the ever-so-quotable Kwame Alexander. “You can’t afford to close a door before you walk through it. The answer is always yes.”

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