Monday, January 28, 2008

My First Repeat Conference

Tip of the Day: Possibly my best tip ever. In the winter, wear loose shoes to conferences and tuck a pair of slipper socks in your manuscript bag. Then, if the rooms are cold, you can walk around in fuzzy socks and nobody will know but you and your toasty toes.

The first writing conference I attended was in January 2007, and it was the Syracuse SCBWI New Years’ Resolution conference. This is a small conference: one editor, one illustrator, and one author. The authors have been stellar: last years’ author was Linda Sue Park. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. My friend Deena, aka Miss Recently Repped, carpooled with me and told me to be ready to be inspired. Linda Sue Park told us she wrote two pages a day, every day, and encouraged us to make that our own resolution. Yes, I thought, all fired with enthusiasm. Yes, I definitely will!

Two days ago, I atttended the January 2008 New Years’ Resolution Conference. I did not write two pages a day every day in the interim. You probably figured that out, didn’t you? But I did keep writing regularly, even if it was only a paragraph a week sometimes.

Novel writing moves at a glacial pace, I think. Sure, those pages and paragraphs add up but I’m an impatient person. I want instant gratification. When my feet are cold, I want my slipper socks and I don’t want to wait until I get home. So publishing is definitely a great fit for me, right? Anyway, it was a great experience to reattend an annual local conference and realize how different my writing life feels this year. For example, there’s a first pages session at this conference, so I brought the first page of my novel in progress. I have worked and reworked this damn first page so many times, it feels like I’ve been writing it forever. You know that Greek legend of the guy who pushes the same boulder uphill every day until the end of time? That’s me and my first page.

Only … this was a different first page than I brought last year! I have a different novel! I haven’t been working on this one forever; it only seems like it. I feel much better now.

This year’s keynote speaker was Tamora Pierce, and she spoke about how important it is to keep going. Her advice was to learn to tell yourself “I’m good” until you believe it. She had to learn to psych herself out, tell herself that since the story was taking over her brain, she might as well let it out on paper, and then once it’s on paper, she might as well polish it, and then she might as well send it out. I brought a camera to take a picture of her, but I’m the world’s worst photographer and I forgot. The woman in front of me drew an impromptu sketch of Tamora Pierce that I think came out much better than any picture I would’ve taken—sad but probably true.

[Imagine nice sketch or photo not taken by me in this spot]

Deena came with me again, and we loved how Ms. Pierce told us about calling her husband when she gets stuck on a plot point. Just like we email people! Maybe my next post will be a list of my potential plot problems and I’ll invite readers to post suggestions. Not that I’m using you or anything. C’mon, it will be fun.

So it was great to go to my first “second time around” conference. I realized I got a lot done this year. New stories, new skills to work on. Am I a better plotter? I think I am. (I need to work on setting and description this year. I hate writing setting and description!) Most importantly, I see myself as a working writer now, producing and improving year after year after year. But Tamora Pierce also reminded me that I started writing because I enjoy it. Those stories stuck in my brain can be fun, not just work. So I’m going to try to have fun with it this year. Sure, my impatient self wants X number of polished pages in hand ASAP. But you know what? I’ll still be writing decades to come, God willing. There’s enough time to write the silly, the plotless, the devoid of description if it makes me happy. Someday I might read it and think “It’s here so I might as well polish it.”

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Emily Marshall said...

Nice post, Kate. Sounds like it was fun. I'm really impatient, too, and feel the same was as you a lot. But it's definitely forcing me to learn to be patient, which is a good thing:)

Lisa Schroeder said...

I love what Tamora said on how to get through each phase. "Well it's here, so I might as well..." :)

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Welcome to the repeat offender club, Kate! I think the metaphor you're looking for is Sisyphus (pushin' a rock, pushin' a rock...). I actually blogged about persistence a while back:

(drat! one of these days I'll figure out how to get my link in a comment post!)

And I know a lot of us share those same feelings you've been experiencing. But wow...Tamora Pierce! Writing is a journey, full of little rest stops and diversions. Don't forget to enjoy the scenery as you go.

Kristina Springer said...

Congrats on your second conference! Can you believe I still haven't gone to one yet? I really need to take the time and go!

DeenaML said...

I can't believe neither of us remembered about the pics! Ack! And thanks for putting up with my unrelated anxiety neurosis. :) But Tamora was great, Jeff Mack the illustrator was funny and entertaining, and Catherine O was a straight shooter on those first page critiques -- even if she didn't tell us on the spot that she'd buy our books for 7 figs. :)

Kate Fall said...

"Writing is a journey, full of little rest stops and diversions. Don't forget to enjoy the scenery as you go."

Thanks, gg, I think I should blow that up in a big font and tack it to my wall!!!

Catherine Onder from Harper Collins was a sharp first page critiquer, but she had to take Midol right after she read my first page. I wonder if that means anything? ;)

Hey, Tina, maybe we could meet up at a conference someday!

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