This past weekend, I attended my first big writer’s conference: the NY gathering of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I had wavered about whether to go or not, but decided to attend largely thanks to Kimberly Sabatini, author of TOUCHING THE SURFACE, a YA novel coming out September 2012 by Simon Pulse. Kim and I “met” through YALITCHAT online. I posted there, asking if anyone was going, and Kim responded and encouraged me to go.
Imagine this as a YA novel moment: I am the new girl at the local high school. The lunch wave is fast approaching and I have no idea where to sit. Maybe I’ll just buy a Snickers bar and roam the hallways for 45 minutes. Sigh. Social isolation is averted when Kim says, “Hey, you can come hang with us.”
Me and Kimberly Sabatini (one of the nicest people ever!)
Seriously, though, Kim did not have to extend herself, but she did. She texted and emailed me, gave me her phone number, and told me to meet her the night I arrived in New York. She then introduced me to other people and recently added me to an email group of writers. How cool is she? And how thankful am I that there are people like her in the world? Because of her, I don’t feel like I just attended a conference. I feel like I joined a community, like I am a part of something.
Another highlight was meeting my agent Laura Langlie in person for the first time. She and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged numerous emails, but we had not met face-to-face. We enjoyed lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, where we talked about our lives and the state of my manuscript, which is on submission to editors. Being at the conference, and meeting Laura in particular, made it real to me that, “Yes, I am a part of another world—the writing world.” My daily life as a teacher and mom is so busy and thoroughly exhausting that I often feel far removed from the writing world, even though I have a novel on submission. Meeting Laura and being in New York at a writer’s conference reminded me that I already have one foot firmly planted in a world outside my daily routine. The only way to make my dream of being a published author come true is to stay focused and keep writing.
In fact, this was the exact advice that published authors, agents, and editors gave throughout the conference: Keep writing. Do not quit. It will happen. Yes, it takes time.
Here are some specifics:
Chris Crutcher signing books.
Chris Crutcher, author of many YA novels including STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES and DEADLINE: Chris, a former teacher and child therapist, effortlessly weaves tragedy and comedy. As proof of this, he made me belly-laugh and cry big tears during his speech. In the end, he said, “Just write it. Tell the best truth you can tell…The truth that you know is the one that will get you published.”
Henry Winkler, author of the HANK ZIPZER series, made a brief appearance that left the audience on its feet. In a short time, he offered genuine, enthusiastic encouragement. He talked about finding success in writing after floundering in school and experiencing a lull in his acting career. He spoke about the joy of working with his writing partner, Lin Oliver. “At the end of the day, I have six to eight pages in my hand that didn’t exist before. What a feeling!” He assured us that we will get published as long as we put “one foot in front of the other.”
Kathryn Erskine, author of QUAKING and MOCKINGBIRD, a National Book Award winner, encouraged us to stay focused and make time for ourselves and our craft. She said lots of wonderful things that made me fall in love with her. Here are a string of quotes I managed to jot down in my notebook:
“Free your mind of what you should be doing. Create a waiting room in your mind and they all need to take a seat.”
“Giving life to your craft is what you have to do for yourself.”
“Free yourself of self-doubt.”
“You’re not going to give up. Let yourself have that passion.”
“It’s hard to be creative when you’re worried about something or someone else. You have to take care of yourself. Do what you need to do to let your creative juices flow.”
“Do it your way. When I hear people say, ‘Write every day,’ I wonder, ‘Do they have kids?’” (Amen, sister!)
“Stay focused. Talent isn’t enough. You need grit. Talent and determination = success.” (I think I’ll tape this one to my wall!)
Although her words to us would have been enough, she brought hundreds of tea light candles and told us to take one home and light it as part of our getting-ready-to-write ritual. She said, “The candle is you. Let it burn. Let it remind you of your creative spirit.”
This weekend was exactly what I needed. I came back exhausted yet energized, which sounds weird but is true. My goal now is to complete my work in progress by the end of March, which is ambitious considering my full-time job as a teacher and my other full-time job as a mom. But, hey, I’ve got a sweet-smelling candle given to me by an award-winning author and lots of encouragement from family and friends–old and new.
I am the candle.
I am ready to let it burn.