I’ve attended three SCBWI LA Conferences, and this one was hands-down the best. The faculty always shines, the best of the best in children’s literature, but this year was exceptional. After every breakout session my hand ached from copious note-taking. I also look so forward to seeing friends I’ve made over the past three years and following the storyline of the lives they are living.
The master class with Diane Muldrow, “An Editor Over Your Shoulder” gave permission to writers to use art notes, something nearly every writer in the room had been told not to do at one time or another. When you think about it, telling the story’s subtext is difficult to do if you do not provide those notes unless everything is in the text, which is another mantra you hear to avoid: “Don’t overwrite, leave room for the illustrator.” Muldrow, editor/author of Random House/Golden Books, spoke the obvious: “The illustrator can’t read your mind.” Somehow, we all thought they could and that putting artist’s notes in was taboo, or at least off-putting at best. In a market that is treading just above the surface (some would argue just below), who wants to be off-putting? Whatever the answer, we all found breaking out the text and taking charge of the art notes liberating, whether or not they end up in the envelope in the end. (Show of hands of who will send off single-spaced mss with art notes?)
Across the board, one thing I heard many different authors say was a practice I am taking up immediately. When I revise, I always have the “dump file” where parts that are cut go to live and rarely–okay, never–are seen again. What many authors use, though, is a third document, a sort of hybrid emotional-informational dumping ground called “notes.” They drop in constantly while writing to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” or cathartic ramblings like that. Pure brilliance. I’m getting one.
The other repetitive theme threaded through the weekend concerns revisions. I am just happy to know so many other writers with piles of published books on the table in front of them revise relentlessly and throw huge clumps of text into the dump page. In college/grad school, I wrote a paper (draft 1), turned it in and got it back with an “A” more times than not. So when it comes to the concept of rewriting, I am a bit of a newcomer. Listening to authors at the conference made me feel like part of a club, the Rewriters Club, and I wondered why SCBWI wasn’t SCBRWI if rewriting is really the bulk of writing. (Is it strikingly obvious what stage of my YA I’m in?)
But that’s the thing about SCBWI LA. As Marion Dane Bauer said in her keynote, “The Shape of Our Stories”, “You will hear what you are ready to hear. Relax, and let the rest fall away.”
The most prophetic comment of the weekend came in Rubin Pfeffer’s keynote. He challenged SCBWI, a 39 year-old organization rooted in the traditions of the publishing industry, to consider the moment we are in with creative content, appoint a steering committee and consider e-publishing as a legitimate form of publication. (In Redding, we have seen several well-published writers turning to this option, holding seminars on the subject and creating excitement with the idea.) Pfeffer has been around the industry for years and has always seemed to me prophetic. Time will tell.