conference

(Re)invented: Lessons from NESCBWI 2016

NESCBWI 2016 artwork by Julianne YoungI returned from my very first NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference two weeks ago. I went into the conference excited and nervous, feelings not unlike those I experienced before going to summer camp or a new school. I expected to learn a lot, and I did, although not always the things I expected. Here are some of my overall take-aways.

  • An author’s an author, no matter how small. Okay, so this was a joint Dr. Seuss and NESCBWI lesson. I heard some fabulous authors and illustrators speak. I felt daunted by their success, their ever-growing lists of publications, their awards, their name recognition. But by the end of the conference I noticed a common theme running through their speeches: they’ve all experienced self-doubt at some point in their career, and often in between books. Whether you’ve just published your first book or your ninth, you start all over again on the next one. At some point that new project will try to break your heart, be it at the writing, querying, revising, or post-publication stage, or possibly (but hopefully not) at all of them! That doesn’t mean you’re less of an author. It means you ARE an author.
  • It’s all about balance. It was tempting to attend only workshops on subjects I already love. However, I realized through trial and error that balancing those close-to-home workshop topics with ones less familiar kept my creativity sparking and my wheels turning.
  • Get uncomfortable. Likewise, whether attending a workshop on a topic that was out of my comfort zone or doing something like reading at an open mic event, I felt most energized and excited in the places I felt the least comfortable.
  • Be kind. One keynote speaker mentioned he tries to be kind. The conference in general made me remember, for the thousandth time in my life, what a big difference kindness makes. Whether it was fellow writers telling me how much they liked my book or manuscript, or friends and hotel employees helping me find places to pump (fist bump to all the working nursing mamas out there!), those moments that glowed as they happened still glow now. I tried and am still trying to make some of those moments for others, too. That reminder to be kind never grows old for me.
  • Make stories, not mistakes. At the end of a long first conference (and travel) day I realized I’d been walking around with a lint sheet stuck to my bottom for the entire day. It was at that point I decided to laugh and said, “I make stories, not mistakes.” So let me tell you about the time I walked around with a  lint sheet stuck to rear end for an entire day…
  • Drink water. Lots of it. I thought I’d learned this years ago, but I battled a migraine after an accidentally dehydrated first afternoon. All that excitement! Oops.
  • Kidlit authors and illustrators are fun. Enough said.
  • Take the energy and run. After I returned home I could have just collapsed. Well, no, I couldn’t have. My supervisors (ages 3.5 years & 18 months) would not have allowed it. But all that travel time and conference adrenaline caught up with me fast once I walked back in my door. I count myself lucky that I happened to have a school visit coming up one week later. It kept me motivated to open up my conference notes and get to work right away. I wanted to incorporate some of the fabulous ideas and information I’d learned. As soon as I cracked that binder open my to-do list grew. I had e-mails to write, events to plan, and stories to write. Plus that presentation to fine tune and practice. (I knew all those years of public speaking contests and theater classes would come in handy some day!) If I or my boys had allowed my collapse, I might have let a lot slide. Instead, I have a presentation I feel great about, new connections online and in real life who make my writing gig feel a little less isolating, schemes afoot, and stories simmering.
  • (Re)invent yourself. The conference theme, “(Re)invention,” struck a chord with me. Beforehand, I had this vague sense of an impending comeuppance. Even before the conference I noticed that a new writer friend and I had both thought the other belonged in some way that the other one didn’t. I soon learned that “imposter syndrome” is a common symptom of being a writer. My (re)invention was just that, a re-identification, recreation, and recognition of myself as an author, a writer, and a member of a particularly fabulous and quirky group of people.

Thank you to all of the conference organizers, especially co-directors Josh Funk, Heather Kelly, and Marilyn Salerno, as well as speakers and workshop presenters, including Anna StaniszewskiJane YolenWendy Mass, Jen Malone, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Patrick CarmanZaneta Jung, Tara Lazar, Jarrett J. KrosoczkaMary E. Cronin & Bonnie Jackman, Colby Sharp, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and Amitha Knight. And to the hotel employee who opened a locked door for me rather than making me trudge back to the jam-packed elevator. You all inspired me! Here’s to an imaginative year ahead!

What are some favorite events or sources of inspiration in your professional life? What have they taught you?

MLA Engage 2015

Image of Engage word cloud used for Maine Library Association Conference 2015I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the Maine Library Association’s Annual Conference: Engage 2015. This was my first time attending, and my first conference in the last five years. My conclusions were: librarians are the best. MLA welcomed me with open arms. In fact, they actually sponsored my attendance. I had called to see if they might be willing to still give me the early bird discount even though I had missed the deadline given that I’m looking for a job and finances are a bit tight. Their response was incredible. They quickly replied that they would be delighted to sponsor my attendance this year and in exchange I could volunteer at the registration table. Well, really, that was the best thing I could have done anyway. It immediately put me at ease talking, and I met so many people right away. From this whole experience I learned that a) it never hurts to ask and b) librarians are awesome. I already knew both of these things, but boy did this confirm it for me. Oh, and c) volunteering is a great way to network.

It felt good to be back among librarians. Here were some of the highlights:

Maine State librarian Jamie Ritter spoke about democracy in libraries and the importance of maintaining our shared core principles of intellectual freedom and privacy. He described silence as an incredible phenomenon, and despite the stereotype of librarians with a ready “shh” on their lips, the reason and importance of quiet is for thinking. As he explained it, “libraries are deliberate in providing opportunities for [the experience of thinking].” The library is a place to exercise our right to think and the right to our privacy in those thoughts.

Of course, I (and I’m sure other youth services librarians) could not help thinking of the youngest patrons who often think out loud and process through noise. Thankfully the two thought-provoking experiences can peacefully coexist in a library!

Another noteworthy session featured Gardiner Public Library Director Anne Davis (winner of this year’s Outstanding Librarian award) and Belfast Free Library Director Steve Norman as they discussed advocating for libraries. They championed local advocacy as the best way of creating change. By attending community meetings, getting involved with local organizations, and making your library a site for civic debate and civic events, you gain allies and establish yourself as an active and vocal member. Other suggestions they made: Always have a story to tell, and when possible have someone else tell your story. When advocating at a state level, contact your representatives. They
don’t hear from people about most bills, and when they do, it matters! Go to the state house and testify. Likewise, to advocate at a federal level, contact your legislators! It makes a difference.

alschiMy favorite speaker was ALSC President Andrew Medlar. He transformed us, a tired audience (it was
the last presentation at the end of the day), to singing, clapping, laughing, and feeling playful and inspired once more. He mentioned that the majority of the kids being born this week are expected to live into the next century. He spoke about ALSC’s big mission — ensuring that libraries are recognized as vital to all children and the communities that support them — and some of its initiatives towards this goal (“Media Mentorship”Every Child Ready to ReadBuilding STEAM with Día, and Día! Diversity in Action, for example). He concluded by asking us to think of one person we’d reach out to in the next month to tell them how awesome libraries are — and you, if you’re still reading this post, should do the same!

Tuesday began with ALA President Sari Feldman — a fellow UW-Madison SLIS alum (woohoo!). She spoke of the ways libraries transform people and communities, and of librarians as change agents. We need to take calculated risks. We do change people’s lives! She pondered how libraries can tap into the sharing economy more. She too emphasized the need for libraries to continue to protect the right to privacy and freedom of inquiry when there is so much before Congress right now chipping away at those ideals. One of the most interesting points came out in the Q&A (doesn’t it so often happen that way?), and that was that in traveling around the globe, Feldman has come to understand and appreciate that libraries are very American institutions–the large number of public, school, and academic libraries all over this country are unique and greatly respected around the world.

The last session I’ll talk briefly about was on Whole Person Reader’s Advisory, and included many useful suggestions, but in particular was the tip to say to a reader, “Tell me about the book,” that they have read or that they are looking for even if it is a book you know. Doing so gives them the opportunity to relive their experience of the book and helps them connect to you, but chances are their choice of words will also tell you something more about what exactly they liked about the book and offer clues towards the next book they’ll love.

And on that practical note, I will end my MLA conference recap. Okay not quite. I have to say again: librarians are awesome.