Real Inspiration: Notes from the New England SCBWI Conference

I spent last weekend at the annual conference of the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. This conference is so special to me because it’s the first SCBWI conference I ever attended, back in 2007.  I met so many incredible, warm, wonderful writers, and since then, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many of them and call them friends. So giving one of the keynotes at the conference this year really felt like coming home.

(Thanks to Kellie at Walden Pond Press for taking this photo & allowing me to steal it. I had four speaking commitments at this conference, which meant that my brain was occupied and my photography somewhat sporadic. Thanks, Kellie!)

I spoke about what I learned speaking at the 2012 TED Conference, especially when it comes to being brave (speaking to an audience of 1500 with no notes & no podium) and being afraid (I was. But that’s okay…because there are different kinds of afraid, when it comes to life and public speaking and writing, too, and this was the good kind.)  And I also gave my talk on world-building and imagination. (TED hasn’t released the video of my original talk yet, but I’ll be sure to share when they do!)

I really enjoyed the other conference keynotes, too. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay for Jane Yolen’s speech on Sunday; she’s one of my literary heroes.  But I enjoyed the nonfiction panel that morning with the Tanya Lee Stone, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Elizabeth Partridge. I loved hearing about the inspiration behind the covers that illustrator Harry Bliss created for the New Yorker, and I found inspiration in Sara Zarr’s talk, where she shared some lessons from children’s book favorites, Frog and Toad.

Linda Urban taught a made-of-wonderful workshop on Getting Unstuck, which helped me to reconsider the motivation of one of my characters in a novel-in-progress.

Linda’s playing ukelele here because she challenged us to explore other art forms as a way of getting “unstuck” when it comes to writing. She’s not just showing off…although she sings some mean blues.

I met a lot of great people at the author-agent panel in which I participated. We talked about getting an agent, how the author-agent relationship works, what agents do, anyway, and things like that.

From left to right, that’s Christine Brodien-Jones and her agent, Steven Fraser; Kristine Asselin and her agent, Vickie Motter,  me and my agent, Jennifer Laughran.

On Sunday, I gave a two-hour revision workshop.  When I originally imagined this session, I was picturing a small group of maybe 12-15 writers, but we had over a hundred. Here they are working on one of the many writing exercises we did. This was a quiet one…

And here they are, working on one of the loud ones!

We talked about revising a manuscript to weed out tired body language and find stronger, more unique ways to show emotion. One way to do that is to brainstorm by role-playing with a partner. If your character is blushing every five pages, for example, you might ask a friend to imagine that he or she is embarrassed and act it out. Then write down what he or she does and says.

One writer in the workshop noticed that in her writing, she always imagines her character from the waist up and never considered what someone’s feet might be doing when they’re angry or scared. Great to consider!

I had so much fun with this group of smart, spirited writers and with everyone at the conference. Thanks, NESCBWI organizers, for a fantastic, inspirational weekend!

4 Replies on “Real Inspiration: Notes from the New England SCBWI Conference

  1. Kate-
    I was one of those fools acting out my emotions in your revising workshop (at least you didn’t capture me on camera) and I just have to tell you that, thanks to you, I have an angry boss, husband and kids because so many things you said had me looking at my manuscript with fresh eyes that I’ve been blowing off everyone around me this week to revise, revise, revise. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy your Real Revision book on the spot (though I did just order it). Thanks for being so giving of your time and perspective. PS- my 5 year old is halfway through Marty McGuire and adoring it. She trotted off to school with it this morning so she could read at recess!

    1. Oh dear…I never like to be responsible for family strife, but I sure am happy to hear that the revision strategies I shared in my workshop were helpful! And thanks for letting me know how much your daughter has enjoyed Marty, too! Happy revising!