Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding my tribe, or highlights from the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference

I love when authors talk about the heart of the craft. I think this is especially important in children's lit. As the New York Times likes to remind us, the industry is constantly changing, and you can't open a copy of Publishers Weekly without hearing about lagging book sales. Writers don't write to make money, they do it because they have to. Because the story's too important not to be heard.
"We do it even though we fail…And you have to wonder why, but we do it because we care."
-Kathryn Erskine
(Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird, reenacts what it felt like to be nominated for the National Book Award.)

Yet good writers have more than heart. They also have mad technical skills. Think of your favorite book. You know the one that has the cracked spin and crinkled corners from rereading your favorite passages so many times. The one you've had to buy three copies of because it fell apart or it's too full of notes in the margins or you loan it out so often you need an extra copy just for you. Yeah, that one. Do you ever find yourself analyzing the writing style or going over a passage twice because of confusing syntax or getting frustrated by typos? No! That's because the writing's so good you stop noticing the individual words and only see the story.
"'Said' is like punctuation to us. We don’t notice it when we read it...Readers shouldn’t have to think about it."
-Andrea Tompa
Writing is hard work, and it also takes sacrifice. Maybe it means the dishes don't get done right away or you can't take that long weekend with friends because you have to take a personal day to talk to that expert. Even without a family to care for, I feel the time crunch, so I can't imagine how moms and dads get it done. And often it happens despite people not understanding why you do it or even supporting your efforts.
"I am giving you all permission today to lower your standards."
-Lisa Yee
(Lisa Yee, author of Warp Speed, keeps the audience in stitches until she breaks their hearts reading from her upcoming book.)

Conferences are the best place to meet people who just get it. And it's not all about writing--it's about the industry. I love that I can sit at a table and have an hour-long conversation about the best audiobook production companies or the increased popularity of mix-medium picture books or the use of boarding schools as a literary device. People don't look at me funny when I say I've read 20 books this month (because they've read 25), and the understand what it feels like to cut your first chapter to move your initiating action forward (because they cut three last week). Everyone is in different stages of their careers, but we all share a love of the children's book industry.

As Lisa Yee says, this is my tribe. They don't judge, they don't laugh. They just get it.


  1. Kathryn, I loved your recap of the conference. It made me wish I was there!

  2. Wouldn't that have been fun! I miss all the good stuff going on in Utah. Someday our paths will meet again.