Monday, September 30, 2013

All The Feels: Lessons from the SCBWI Carolinas Conference

This weekend I went to my regional conference of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators--An organization all people who intend to write YA should consider joining, by the way. It's how I found my first critique group, a huge stepping stone for me on the path to getting an agent. The annual conference helps keep me accountable and inspires me when I'm in a writing rut.

My career's in an interesting place to be at a conference right now. I'm not looking for an agent or pitching to editors. My current WIP is a New Adult manuscript. And I'm sort of in a holding pattern with my YA projects. So I went to the conference this year not so much looking to learn technique as to gain insights into what I was doing right with my writing life as a whole. 

I learned loads.

So while it's a little out of the wheelhouse of my All the Feels posts, I thought I'd share some of the more global Writing Life messages that hit home with me this weekend.

Literary Agent Sarah Davies, in addition to having impeccable taste in shoes, gave a fantastic breakout session about Contracts. While it was one of the drier sessions I attended over the course of the weekend (and Sarah warned us it would be at the start), I was so glad I chose it because I learned loads. I think a lot of writers veer away from subjects that are so non-craft oriented because, well, they can be boring. They're not about writing. They're not great sources of inspiration.

But holy crow are contracts important to our careers, you guys. A contract, or lack thereof, is the easiest place for a writer to get screwed in this business. It's not something you'll spend a lot of time learning about in an MFA program. You won't read a lot about it here on YA Stands or any other group blog about writing for teens. But a contract can make or break your career.

And that was the message Sarah gave us that most hit home with me:

"Ultimately, this is a business."

I think as creative people, we try to avoid thinking about the business aspect of this whole publishing thing. (Heck that's why a lot of us choose to get agents!) But I think forgetting this is a business can get us hurt or possibly screwed.

Cynthia Liu, author of the incredibly adorable WOOBY AND PEEP, and incidentally, also a woman with fabulous shoes, gave a fantastic keynote about Story Arc incorporating examples not only from fictitious fiction but also from her own writing career.  I furiously took notes throughout her speech, but the message that hit home most for me was this:

"This is how I approach my writing life--I've learned I need to let go of the things I can't control and focus on the things I can."

There is so much about this process that is out of our control. But we can't let the things we can control get out of hand. We need to be assertive and business savvy and well-informed about all aspects of the writing life. Even the parts, like contracts, that might be less interesting to us.

On Sunday morning I went to Writers' House agent Stephen Barr's breakout session on Treating Your Story's Setting as a Main Character. It was the only craft session I attended all weekend, and I was so glad that I did because it was exactly what I needed. Stephen's take-home message was:

Convenience can be the enemy of a story--don't choose a setting just because it's easy.

In the past I wrote stories where setting was an afterthought. I'm struggling with it in my current WIP, too. But for the book I'm outlining for NaNoWriMo this year, setting most definitely is a main character. And for me, that's a huge factor in my excitement to get started on the project. Incidentally, while Stephen does not have shoes as fantabulous as either Cynthia or Sarah he does have snazzy taste in ties.

The conference ended with a final keynote by Dan Yaccarino, who shared his journey as an author/illustrator, whose entire catalog I want to buy for my daughter Calliope in the next couple years. While I didn't write down an exact quite (I was too busy spamming my husband's inbox with Dan's adorable picture books and videos we need to add to our to-buy list), one of the last things he said was a message I needed to hear right now.

Celebrate your accomplishments, even the little ones. Not the things our agents do for us (though that's something to appreciate and be thankful for and celebrate, too), but the steps we take personally to advance our careers.

Things like finishing a novel. Or sending out the first query. Or starting the next manuscript.

Speaking of which, I've got some writing to do.

What steps are you taking to advance your writing career? What's one thing you've learned at a conference that you've put into action for your own writing? 

Dannie Morin is an author, blogger, and freelance editor. She's currently contemplating seeking help for her social media addiction. In the meantime, you can find her on Blogger, Facebook, Goodreads, & Twitter. If you've got suggestions for a future All the Feels post, contact Dannie via the contact form on her blog. She is repped by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.


  1. Great post! It sounds like you're in a similar place as me--agented, but without a book on shelves yet. Fascinating that your takeaway points were similar to mine (I just posted my nuggets from the conference, too! lol) and yet not the same. I love how we can each glean what we need from the presenters!

  2. I've recently joined the SCBWI, and I'd love to go to a conference some day and learn more about the business. I do read their booklets that come in the mail and I've yet to do anything with what I've read. Your post was very helpful, thank you.