I 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 Staniszewski, Jane Yolen, Wendy Mass, Jen Malone, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Patrick Carman, Zaneta Jung, Tara Lazar, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Mary 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?