Toads, TED talks, and Magical Landscapes: the 2012 NESCBWI Conference

Sara Zarr giving her keynote. Somehow my only picture from the weekend.

Last Saturday I woke up before sunrise, grabbed my bags, and drove a couple hours to Springfield, MA. Why put so much effort into what would otherwise have been a sleepy Saturday morning? Because I had to get to the NESCBWI conference!

I attended the international SCBWI conference in January, but this was my first regional conference. As with the larger SCBWI conference, there was a fantastic writerly vibe at NESCBWI. Fellow attendees were friendly and enthusiastic; presentations were informative and invigorating; and I left excited to get to work.

It’s a smart idea to have a regional conference. While I loved going to SCBWI in New York, I’m not sure I could make the trip out every year. The New England version is a little more manageable. Also, the workshops I attended felt much more focused on a particular topic. I’m sure regional conferences allow a little more tailoring to what particular attendees want to work on, as opposed to a much larger conference. A few workshops I attended were about setting expectations for your writing career, creating magical worlds, and navigating book contracts. Again, really interesting and helpful stuff.

A few highlights/thoughts/fun moments from NESCBWI:

  • In her keynote speech, Sara Zarr (one of my favorite YA authors) talked about what characters care about. So often we’re asked “What does your character want?” but Sara mentioned that sometimes what you want can just be a symbol for what you care about. I hate the “what does X want?” question; the “what does X care about” makes so much more sense to me. (She also related the writing life to Frog and Toad stories. Loved it!)
  • Also from Sara Zarr: “Let your writing actions speak to your commitment.”
  • Cynthia Lord mentioned there are peaks and valleys in a writing career; it’s not always an upward trajectory. She suggested thinking of the successes and rewards as “gifts” from readers. If someone write a good review about you or wants to give you an award, it’s a gift. Gifts can’t be expected, and as a result there’s way less pressure on you to hit those peaks.
  • Kate Messner shared her TED talk with us (so cool!) and reminded us that sometimes fear lets us know we’re exceeding the artificial limitations we set for ourselves.
  • A behind-the-scenes look at New Yorker covers and comics from Harry Bliss. His keynote made me wish I could illustrate.
  • When creating magical worlds, ask yourself questions like “How would geography affect class structure?” and “What kind of medicine or drugs do they have?” Cinda Williams Chima gave such a great workshop; I felt with major fantasy invigoration.
  • The Apocalypsies/Class of 2012 debut novelists are awesome people. It was great to hear about how weird the first novel experience can be. Special thanks to AC Gaughen and Diana Renn for chatting with me afterward.
  • On a more personal note, I was invited to join a fabulous YA/MG critique group. So excited to start workshopping with such wonderful writers!

If you want even more on NESCBWI, make sure to check out these posts by other attendees/presenters. And if you attended, please share your thoughts/links to blog posts about your NESCBWI experience in the comments.


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