Monday, August 14, 2006

"I sit on my muse"

Get it? My muse is my tush. heh heh. That quote is ripped off from Candie Moonshower, who Alexandra also mentioned in her post about the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & lllustrators) conference she and Jim and I went to in Los Angeles last week. That conference means A LOT to me, as I really don't think I would/could have written my book without it, much less found a publisher. (I wrote more about that here.) The SCBWI has created something really marvelous, a kind of paved and illuminated path to publication. Maybe not everyone will make it to the end of that path, but it's not because the path isn't there. It's there - IT'S THERE - and that is a revelation in itself.

This was my fourth year attending, and each year I have left supercharged with inspiration and with the knowledge that PEOPLE WRITE BOOKS THAT GET PUBLISHED. ALL THE TIME. And there are always other little secrets I leave with, words of wisdom or mysteries demystified. This year I will remember as the "Write the damn book" year, because that was the undercurrent in what many of the speakers said. In fact, it was exactly what Jane Yolen said in the closing keynote speech. "Write the damn book," she said again and again, and since she has written over 280 of them, one might assume she knows something about it. Could it really be that simple?

It is, after all, about sitting down and writing, isn't it? Where does all the baggage and terror come from? How does a writer keep that sense of play and that joy, when the story is straining forward like a racehorse at the gates, just wanting to do what it was born to do? And that magical tingle of "what happens next?" Aren't those the most thrilling words in the world? "What happens next?" Questions like "Are you published?" and "Do you have an agent?" just pale in comparison! It's about the story! It's about making stuff up! It's about creating characters you wish you could BE for a while, then making them learn things and fall in love and save the world... or, you know... whatever.

It's about the writing.

Some of the speakers gave solid technical advice about story structure, and we scribbled madly along in our notebooks, and some gave funny, heartwarming, inspirational lectures that held us rapt, though we mightn't have jotted down a single thing. Some editors spoke about revisions, which I am going through right now on my first novel (which I will shortly be getting back to, just in case my editor reads my blog, and if you do, ahem, Jim and I made you cookies last night. Really!) There was a mock contract negotiation between an editor and an agent, which was a real education, and there were slideshows by illustrators and one fabulous short film by a young picture book writer/illustrator named Jarrett Krosoczka, about the rollercoaster ride of creating his first book.

Caroline Cooney, "the goddes of the YA novel" gave a terrific talk on crafting the novel, creating suspense, moving the story forward, making choices, and most importantly, writing writing writing, and FAST. Her "plotting" seminar later was a harrowing and exhilarating experience, as she stood before a packed room with eyes glinting wickedly and practically cracked a whip, throwing us prompts and forcing us to write a story then and there, following the twists and wiles of her own malicious mind (I say that very fondly. It was a GREAT workshop!). Her point? You can write a LOT in 45 minutes if you're actually writing, rather than worrying or examining your cuticles or petting the dog with your foot, or whatever.

She mentioned a technique called a "Dear Aunt Helen" letter, for getting your ideas on paper. It's kind of like the trick I already use, having a document open on my computer titled "working doc" rather than the daunting "Chapter 1" -- By writing: "Dear Aunt Helen, I'm writing this story, and it's about blah blah blah, and by the way blah blah blah..." you can sort of smuggle the story past your inner critic. Cool, huh? It's like psychological warfare... on yourself!

And there was so much more. Once again, I urge writers to go to conferences. I especially urge children's writers to go to this one. It's every August at the swank Century Plaza Hotel in L.A., just a few miles down the road from Santa Monica, as pictured above all lovely and sunsetty. There's a pool and a hot tub, and lots of palm trees on a patio where you can sip overpriced wine while looking up at the MGM tower next door and wondering what wheeling-dealing is going on THERE. There's a party Saturday night at which you can sidle up to editors and try to act like you know they're just people, too. And there are writers and artists from all over the country working on their own cool projects (hi Jolie & Sarah & Ryan & Kevin!), and don't forget the manuscript reviews and contests and grants for works in progress, and it just all around rocks, so go.

Here are some pictures of us:


Mardougrrl said...

Thanks to you and Alexandra, I feel as though I attended the conference myself...thank you! I have been telling myself "write the damn book" ever since I read the Marvelous Madness post. :)

I wish I could sneak into your brain and scan it quickly for the revision and plot insight and crafting and oh, all of those tricky delicious things we need to learn to write something wonderful.

And luckily for me, my muse is wide and comfortably plush. ;)

Kim G. said...

Wow! I agree with mardougrrl - I feel like I got some of the best from the conference just in reading your post (I'm off to Alexandra's now to hijack ideas and strategies from her as well!)

Sounds like it was a fabulous investment of time and money. Maybe I'll set my sights on one someday. :)

Alexandra S said...

Now I feel like I got to relive the conference in the writing too! It WAS a wonderful conference and thank you for nudging me to go. I've felt such a surge of possibilities and inspiration from these days there, and never would have known how vital such events are were it not for you Thinnychoochoo so once again, THANK YOU! In case I don't see you again until next year, ta-ta!

deirdre said...

Thanks for sharing all these hints and tips, and of course, inspiration. I may have to make a little plan for next year.

rdl said...

you can sort of smuggle the story past your inner that! sounds like alot of fun. nice post.

Deb R said...

I love the idea of the "Dear Aunt Helen" letter!

kelly rae said...

laini, that sounds like a great conference. reminds me of how i felt when i returned from artfest. you just want to shout "go, everyone go!"

M said...

This sounds very cool, what a great idea! Bringing all those like-minded people together to support each other and inspire one another - I feel like I was there too!! I'll have to check and see if there is such an organization up here in Canada. I do the "Dear Aunt Helen" prompt already, just pretend I'm writing to a friend or something - it definitely works! I had no idea others did it too!!

madness rivera said...

Write the damn book. duh, right? I'm adding this to my list, Laini. "I write the damn book."

Janet Finch once told me that a novel isn't as intimidating as it seems. Just write one scene at a time. One damn scene at a time.

Thanks for the great post.

melba said...

That looks like a great time. i am glad you had fun and got so much out of it!

Amber said...

Awesome!! I am going to come back and read this over again after I put my kids to bed. Because I want to soak it up.


Madeleine said...

i love the little tips and techniques everyone was mentioning. it really is a battle of the psyche isn't it?

sounds like a productive and FUN time.
and the setting can't be bad, either!


Shari said...

It is great hearing about your experience at the conference. I will be forever grateful to you for turning me on to the world of SCBWI and conferences and workshops. It truly does make it all seem like it really CAN HAPPEN. I hope, hope, hope I can go to to the biggie in LA someday! "Write the Damn Book" is awesome!

b/sistersshoes said...

Love the 'Aunt Helen' idea...YOU, my love, are just full of them...I had to read this 2 times...AND take notes! Whew!

Thanks my little sweetie :)

xxx d

aithbhreac said...

What an inspirational event! This review has inspired me to get off my *#@*# and find a similar gathering related to my area of interest. It is time! There's something about connecting to the larger world of your art/writing that infuses you with energy.

chest of drawers said...

You make me want to sit down and write my own book!

megg said...

Ooooh. Jealous. so. jealous. I'm so glad that you've rejuiced your batteries. I'm going to write that over my computer so that I can read it every day: 'Write the damn book.'


liz elayne said...

so much inspiration here laini. thank you, thank you for sharing all of this.
write the damn book. yes. that is wonderful. and so very true. writing is the only way it happens. thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laini! i just said hi on Jim's blog too. and came here and saw you said hi to me in your last post! yay! and what a great picture of us on the patio! i was really happy to meet you and Jim. I have decompressed this past week from the conference and i decided meeting people like you guys was probably the best part (aside from all the important information and stuff) what i mean is, part of me came to the conference not knowing what i wanted to get out of it...and so, now i realize that meeting you two was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

(the studio audience goes "awwwwwww")

Stay in touch.

- Ryan