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Keeping It Real: What I Learned At NESCBWI 2012

This past weekend, I attended the spring conference of the NESCBWI in Springfield, MA. For those of you not in the know, NESCBWI stands for the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Unwieldy acronym? Most definitely. Important organization? Most definitely.

Since the theme of this year’s conference was “Keeping It Real,” I thought I would do just that. Here is what I learned from this year’s conference:

  • Sara Zarr, author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, and How to Save a Life, gave the keynote address on Saturday morning, entitled “The Meaning is in the Mess: A Case for Writing Life As It Is, Not How We Wish It.” She was great. I’d like to share a bottle of wine with her. Or two. I think we’d have a blast. She signed my treasured copy of Sweethearts, which I proceeded to lend to a critique partner upon promise of infliction of grave injury if she loses it.
  • Meditation can lead to amazing character insights. I don’t generally have patience for such things, but my session with Laurie Calkhoven was inspiring. It’s possible she thought I was stalking her, because I caught up to her the day after the workshop and then later I made her sign two books of hers that I had just purchased at the conference bookstore. Hey, when you’re inspired, you’re inspired.
  • Even though I’m not generally into fantasy, especially high fantasy, one of the most enjoyable workshops of the weekend was Cinda Williams Chima’s session on Building Believable Magical Worlds. So useful, even for those of us who aren’t setting our novels in some mystical land full of wizards and dragons. It’s about asking yourself all the questions about your fictional setting and testing all the possibilities for conflict. Fantastic.
  • When you have hundreds of writers trapped in a hotel without a coffee shop, to take away the free coffee stations immediately after breakfast is just plain cruel. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t be responsible for my actions when I am deprived of both sleep and caffeine.
  • The opening to my work-in-progress hits all of the classic “how to write a beginning” advice. It remains to be seen whether it will be a successful opening for real — i.e., by captivating the reader and making her want to read more.
  • Every time I hear someone read their own work and I think it’s not great, it causes me to seriously question my own work. Does my stuff make people cringe?
  • My critique group is the single best thing to happen to me in the past few years. What an incredible set of ladies with incredible talent…who also happen to be lots of fun to hang out with.

Overall, a great weekend. I can’t wait to come back next year — hopefully with a completed manuscript in hand.

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Posted on April 23, 2012, in Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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