Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Writers, go forth!


A few words on writers conferences: Writers, go to them. Go!

We're solitary animals who spend hours of every day alone with our minds, lost in "the swirl and swing of words*." Trying to find an agent or publisher is another solitary act: praying over manila envelopes as we drop them into the jaws of a post box. That's it, the life of a writer: wiggling our fingers all day and then, maybe, dropping our words in a box for some stranger to come along and carry to another stranger. What kind of a job is that? It's wonderful and horrible.

I went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) conference almost 5 years ago. The national conference is held in a plush hotel in Los Angeles each August and consists of four days, four amazing days that can change your life. I went with that expectation, of course. I would be discovered and come away with a contract to illustrate a book. I put my portfolio on display and waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and I was a little crushed when it wasn't. Over the four days I listened to the discouraging words of the many editors and writers who told us the awful statistics of the slush pile, the great improbability of ever getting published... 2 manuscripts of out 20,000 is a slushpile-to-publication statistic I recently heard. But amidst all those discouraging reality checks was another kind of reality check: everywhere there were published writers. And I'm not talking about the guest speakers. Among the attendees, many many many were published! They proudly showed the galleys of their first picture book, or told their story of how they'd been referred to their agent by a writer in their critique group. Here was overwhelming proof of this great fact: people write books that get published. ALL THE TIME!

I didn't win any awards at that first conference or get any contracts, but I DID see a designer from Chronicle Books linger over my portfolio and take my card, and I DID get the great idea of sending artwork to Ladybug Magazine. I later found out the designer had recommended me for a picture book assignment that ultimately went to someone else, and I have subsequently done numerous illustrations for the art director of Ladybug, so I consider that a successful first conference.

The next time I attended, two years later, I was READY. My portfolio was going to kill, I was sure of it. Again, I waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and again, it wasn't. This time I was much more crushed. But I didn't mope too much. Instead, I talked to people. I pretended to be a self-confident sparkling artist, and I talked to anyone I could get my hooks into, and that pestering led directly to meeting two women who have been hugely important to my creative life. One of them is now my agent, and the other is an editor who nurtured my writing at a tender stage and gave me great hope that has carried me along like a pair of wings.

The other thing that came out of that conference was the writing of my first novel. I attended a workshop on writing series for children taught by Dan Greenburg, and that is where a little sprout of an idea discovered what it needed to do to become a book, and now it is a book (that I will speak more about at a later date). I owe so much to writers conferences, I shudder to think where I would be if I had listened to the nagging voice of financial reason and not gone to them. I encourage all writers to seek out gatherings in their areas, or to pile up their pennies and take themselves away to a big fabulous conference like the LA SCBWI. I'm not sure what groups are out there to nurture other kinds of writing, "grown-up writing." but I did hear a radio piece on a convention for romance writers, and Jim and I sold our comic book The Drowned as a direct result of dogged persistence at the San Diego Comic-Con 3 years in a row. I also met the company that licenses Laini's Ladies at a convention where I put on my sparkling confident artist mask and sallied forth with a thumping heart.

Jim and I went up to Seattle this past weekend to attend the SCBWI Western Washington regional conference, and like every conference I've been to it was a magical day of inspiration, where possibility seeps into you and fills you up, and you find your fingers itching to write, and your mind thrumming with ideas, and where maybe, just maybe, you'll sit next to an editor at lunch and they'll like your idea and ask you to send your manscript (you hear stories like that all the time at conferences!) So writers, artists, go forth! Make your dream come true!

*James Michener: "I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion."

27 comments:

Shari said...

I hear you, girl, and I thank you!

jd said...

I couldn't agree with you more Laini. I attended the Aspen Summer Words writing workshop several years ago and spent four days studying with Ron Carlson. The candid feedback from other writers was invaluable and I learned so much more on the writing craft than could ever be gleaned from the hundreds of books on how to write.

Amber said...

Wow, Laini. I read this three times over. Thank you so much for posting this kind of info and little push for all of us. I have been thinking of going to a conference for a long time now, but being a mom of two little ones, I always have managed to come up with a reason why it would be selfish, or whatever. The time away, the money... But this was so encouraging, and interesting. Thank you!

I can't believe some publishing house has not snatched you up for a beautiful children's book! I would buy it in a minute, with your amazing art and magical mind! Really, I would. I hope that happens for you, someday!

:)

kelly rae said...

i can feel your enthusiasm. and it reminds me of my feelings about art retreats. now that i've been to one, i see now how valuable it is to be surrounded by possibilities, learners, and teachers! they are the boosts we all need!

TJ said...

Very interesting and inspiring.
Anything that motivates us is a very good thing...you post will tickle the motivations of others.
Good entry.
Thank you for your visit to my blog.
TJ

melba said...

Laini you are so inspiring you should be a speaker (hint, hint)!

Your beautiful spirit just shines through in every post (even the controversial ones)

I love your enthusiasm and how
you fill us all with hope!

krista said...

Hey! That's so cool! I "know" an illustrator of LadyBug. My son has a few of those magazines.

M said...

I love getting together with like minded people, on any subject really- it's so inspirational and you get to see things frmo another perspective. I'll have to see what conferences are swirling around up here!!

Roz Foster said...

I was at this conference on Saturday also. It was my first. I enrolled too late to enjoy the harrowing process of a portfolio review; however, I learned a great deal about the industry. That was mostly what I was there for--learning the lingo, a little bit about the publishing infrastructure. Mark McVeigh was particularly impressive--both his keynote and his breakout session. I'd say the price tag was worth it just to hear his talks alone.

Hats off to your persistence, bravery and well-earned accomplishments, Laini.

harmonyinline said...

I always wondered if writers’ conferences were a waste of time or not. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Alexandra S said...

Wonderful post Truty! And I look very forward to the SCBWI conference this August! I really don't think I would be going at all if it wasn't for all your persistence and nagging that I am eternally grateful for. Silly that when I actually lived in LA I only went twice one day each year and now that I live in Portland I will be flying down for the whole thing!Thank you for sharing your story! (I'll be saving the airplane peanuts in my ear again for Jimbozoot).

la vie en rose said...

yeah you for doing what you need to do to keep the fire burning!

Rampian said...

Thanks for your sweet words. Those are the true rewards of my job.

I'm actually writing to you from IRA in Chicago, which is kind of like the photographic negative of the LA SCBWI. The publishers are the ones shyly begging the teachers, principals, and counselors to take a look at their work---this time WE'RE the ones in the vast sea of other publishers, with thousands other books, and WE'RE desperately trying to shine out among the masses. Humbling experience!

liz elayne said...

oh thank you for the inspiration my friend. i love hearing about your experiences...

megg said...

jealous, jealous! I can't wait to hear more!!

Swirly said...

This is great advice, and I'm going to remember it!

Amber said...

I wrote back to you on my post. You figured me out! It is a small world, that you were born there, huh? Neat. An artist born in an art loving town. ;)

:)

Master Peanut said...

Today I made Lotion! Then I looked for Dylan Sprouse's Address! No luck..... :(

Patry Francis said...

I completely agree. We writers spend way too much time alone. Even if we don't make a great connection, it's wonderful to be among our tribe.

Roz Foster said...

It *was* pretty writer-centric, wasn't it? Being so new to it, and also having a little interest in writing for that audience, I didn't notice the imbalance too much. Yes, it would have been nice to have known you were there. Next time! Brian Karas was very entertaining. You said he was 'nice.' Did you get to chat with him?

jamie ford said...

Way late to the discussion, but appreciated the post. I'm going to my first writers' workshop in June--there are only 18 of us, but the emails are already flying and it's exciting. One writer is from Paris, another from Ireland, the rest from the far corners of the U.S. I can't wait.

GoGo said...

You are an inspiration. Sometimes I come here just to remember why I love writing so much.

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