Monday, November 16, 2009

SCBWI Conference Was Invigorating!

Saturday's SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference in Arlington was a blast! As I posted on Friday, it was my first writer's conference and I can't wait for my 2nd. Last week, I felt stale and blocked. Partly because I was trying to get over the flu but mainly because I needed to be reinvigorated.

What a day! Volunteering was indeed a terrific way to meet people and have fun. I am so glad I did. I have to say children's writers have got to be the nicest, most supportive gang I have ever been around. I met so many great women and learned so much I can't wait to tell you guys all about it.

Unfortunately, I came home Saturday to a sick 7 year old and then the next morning, my son got it. Same thing I had last week and I suspect it's H1N1 but I haven't had them tested. So I'm just now getting to the computer.

I took lots of notes but want to tell you about the keynote speaker today. Patricia Reilly Giff came with her husband, Jim. The two of them sat next to each other the entire time and I couldn't help thinking how wonderfully together they seemed and how random it was to be inspired not only by a speaker's words but by their actions.

She opened with the story of how she began writing. One day she told her husband she wished she didn't have to go to work, to teach. And, when she came home, he had altered two adjacent closets into a writing area for her. From that point on, she began writing and after feeling hopeless most of the time and after throwing away the words she wrote each day, she began to research other writers.

She checked out 10 children's books from the library and read the first page of each. Ths is something that of course we all know to do. Every book on writing goes on and on about the power of reading the type of books you want to write. For Ms. Giff, this would not have been so apparent years ago.

Her words of advice were simple. To write a story, you must start with a person, place and problem. In her sweet yankee voice, she descibed choosing a character, dropping her/him in a place and finding that character a problem. You make that person move for action, talk for dialogue and you have his/her problem continue to get worse as the story goes on until it is solved at the end.

When Ms. Giff first started writing, she did as many of us do. She got out of bed 30 minutes before her kids got up and wrote. Her house was a mess and her cooking was terrible. But, she insisted that it's the work you put into it that provides you with success. Isn't it inspiring to hear a successful writer say we can all become authors as long as we work hard?!

To questions posed her by the audience she insisted that thinking about our own childhood is sufficient for drawing most characters. She lies on the living room floor and tries to remember events and feelings from when she was growing up. Her emotions become her character's emotion.

She pointed out several scenes in Pictures of Hollis Woods and explained how something very similar had happened in her own life, in her childhood. One last trick she does is to think about her two softies, her husband and her agent, reading her WIP and if she can picture them tearing up, then she knows she's done it.

Tomorrow I hope to blog about some of the other presenters. Today, I need to get back to the sickies!


  1. It sounds wonderful Jenn! Thanks so much for sharing her advice. I sure hope your kids are better soon - that bug is just awful!

  2. Thanks for posting, Jennifer! I've been waiting to hear how the conference was. I'm sorry I had to miss it.

  3. Hope your kids feel better. Sounds like you had a really great time :)

  4. Oh,thanks so much for sharing. Love hearing conference notes!

    My little guy is sick too. I felt sure it was H1N1 but my doctor said she can't test for it. She said here in NJ you have to go to a hospital for that. UGHHH. So frustrating.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing. I can't wait to hear more. I hope everyone in your house gets well soon.