Rule #20 – Draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.
Ahhhhh – Spring!
According to the calendar, it arrived on March 21. The weather goddess didn’t quite get the memo, since the Mid-Atlantic region got snow on March 30. Some areas still have cruddy snow piles just melting away slowly, like the Wicked Witch of the West.
This year especially, spring has everyone ready to break out of the winter doldrums – break out the shorts for warmer weather, break out of the house and get more outdoor exercise, break out the cleaning tools and sweep winter away. This writer needs to break out the axe and start decluttering the office area again and chopping away at the mental blocks to her writing. It is time for me to dust off the shelved manuscripts and see how they will fly to publishers.
On March 29, our regional SCBWI chapter helped me do just that. The MD/DE/WV regional group hosted a conference titled “Spring: Nature’s Revised Draft”. The goal was to help writers and illustrators clean out our personal slush piles, revise the manuscripts and kick them out of the nest and into the hands of publishers.
|Conference check-in and picking up materials|
The day started with check-in at registration and networking with a writer’s best friend – coffee. Many got to catch up with friends they see only online or at conferences. Old friendships were renewed; new ones were made. Then it was off to the keynote session.
After welcoming all participants, Sue Peters, regional co-director, introduced Leslea Newman, who took us through her journey writing October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Sheppard. She took us back into her life and the controversy sparked with her book, Heather has Two Mommies. Leslea is not just writing now; she is writing with an advocate’s passion. She challenged all of us to imagine a world that is perfect, with peace, with no hatred, and then make a commitment to make it happen.
|Leslea Newman describing her research into Matthew Sheppard's murder|
The morning break out sessions gave everyone a chance to learn from the pros. Guiseppe Castlellano gave artists and illustrators an inside look into the world of the art director. Alex Arnold shared tips to get plots perking on paper and not just in your head. Tara Lazar showed participants how to take a picture book from a flat manuscript to a dummy book, and why that process is so critical to a story. Debra Hess gave us important tips on non-fiction – what it is, what it isn’t, and all those fine lines in between.
Lunch time gave us a chance to shop in the book store. It was a great time for a book collector like me to buy books and have them signed by the author.
|Book store is a busy place between sessions|
|Tara Lazar (foreground) and Leslea Newman sign their books for fellow writers|
Afternoon break out sessions focused more on specific how-to skills for writers. Sara D’Emic and Rori Shay showed their audience how to use Facebook and Twitter to build audience and promote books. Alyson Heller discussed the importance of those first chapters with her group. Christa Hescheke mapped out the route in fantasy writing that helps writers build their world and, then, sell it. Shelley Koon shared her easy methods for authors to build websites. Sara D’Emic and Rori Shay were back later in the afternoon showing their audience how to query and find an agent. Leslea Newman was back also, discussing her methods of developing characters and finding the real person in them.
All session leaders took questions during their instructional time. But there are always some last minute questions for everyone. The all faculty panel gave the entire speakers group a chance to address questions to everyone, all at once.
We all left the day inspired, energized, and, thanks to Shelley Koon, connected to a critique group. The chance to improve our writing will continue as we meet with other writers and revise our stories.
On a personal note, this day was critical for me. I needed to participate, not just for the energy, but for more personal reasons. Two years ago, I was working with my critique group and got two manuscripts together. One was ready for query and the other was very close. I even had some publishers lined up for the query. Then, my husband became suddenly ill and passed away. It was a dark time for me in my mind, and my soul. Every time I thought of those stories- or if someone asked about them- I went back in my mind to those dark days of grief. I couldn’t talk about the stories at all, until recently. As part of my grief therapy, I forced myself to pull both stories out of the hard drive. I read them both. At first I felt myself going back to those dark days. I had my weepy moments and then I put them back in the drawer, not quite ready to let them go. This happened several times through the past two years. But, on that Saturday, March 29, I pulled both manuscripts out and carried them with me all day. The load was lighter. I didn’t head back the dark rabbit hole of grief. I made it through the day without crying – then or later.
Thanks to all the help I got at the conference, I can now kick these manuscripts out of my nest. I can let them fly off to publishers.
All photos are property of Marge McGugan and may not be reused or copied without written permission.