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: