Non-fiction Conference in Iowa was Inspiring and Rejuvenating

by | Apr 10, 2018

This past Saturday I went to a non-fiction SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I went with mixed feelings: it’s a four-hour drive, I had just had bad news about my current manuscript, and there were several other things I wanted to do that day. Still, I had signed up and paid, not only registration, but also for a manuscript critique. Besides, I have never regretted going to any SCBWI event. Ever. So I went, albeit reluctantly.

When I walked in the door I still had my doubts. Everyone seemed to know each other and were happily chatting away. Typically I have no problem striking up a conversation but I just didn’t have it in me to do so this day. On top of that, it seemed that everyone at the conference was way more accomplished than I was. Be gone, you green-eyed monster, be gone!!!

And even, with all these doubts, I am thrilled I went. I learned so much, from presenters Linda Skeers and Jill Esbaum, who helped us think of creative ways to approach subjects that had been done already, to Barb Kramer, who reminded us to remember the educational market, and to Jackie Briggs Martin (author of Snowflake Bentley!), who had so many awesome insights and reflections on how to write a picture book biography. In addition, two editors joined us via Skype, from National Geographic Books and SourceBooks Jabberwocky. Plus I had a great chat with Linda about my middle grade non-fiction WIP (work in progress) that she critiqued.

And in fact, even if I hadn’t learned all these specific things, it would have been a great conference just to be in the same room with other people who are as excited and dedicated about writing for children as I am. I came away re-energized.  This seems to happen every time I go to a conference and yet every time it surprises and delights me. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that writing can be a lonely process. There aren’t many people willing to hear over and over again about your struggles, whether it’s figuring out a good topic, finding research materials or organizing your manuscript, but at a conference, even if you don’t get help with any of those specific things, you are in a room with people wrestling with many of the same issues.

Plus, they all love words. They all love to read. They all love to write, even if that is a more love/hate kind of thing. The energy from that is priceless.

I was lucky enough to sign up for the Illinois SCBWI’s Words in the Woods event  in mid-August, which filled up before the first day was even over (!!). Is the stretch between conferences, in other words, from April to August too long? Does anyone have a rule of thumb or even an algorithm to determine the most effective frequency of conferences? I’d love to hear it, if you do!!

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