SCBWI Summer Conference Wrap-Up

I arrived home from the SCBWI Summer Conference inspired, yet exhausted. And perhaps with a bit of post-conference depression. After spending a week in such a social and supportive writing atmosphere, it can be a let-down to once again fire up my laptop, alone with my words. Yet I’m not truly alone. My characters are here, and I’m immersed in the story I worked so hard to craft. But more importantly, the many pearls of wisdom gleaned from authors far more experienced than me still echo in my mind.

The top five pieces of advice still echoing in my mind:

5. Jolie Stekly: “Don’t be the Donkey!” That one’s an inside joke from the orientation session involving a great photo of a donkey thrust into the air above its upturned cart, but her point was a good one. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed at an international conference or in the huge industry of children’s literature.

4. Deborah Halverson: “Teenagers are the center of their universe.” She was speaking about dialog in particular, but her message applies to many aspects of writing young adult fiction. It’s easy for an adult to forget that a teenager sees themselves at the center of their universe and is always most concerned about how something impacts them personally. Authentic teen fiction needs to utilize that self-centered world view in the dialog, the descriptions, and the behavior of the main characters for a teenager to believe it.

3. Karen Cushman: “As soon as you trust yourself, you will know what to write.” It’s easy to solicit too much feedback and worry too much about what other authors are writing when you’re unpublished. Sometimes the best thing to do is shut out all that background noise and listen to your own instincts, at least until you’ve finished the first draft of your manuscript. Revision is a whole different beast where listening to feedback is critical.

2. Ruta Sepetys: “Write the book only you can write.” So much emphasis is placed on following trends and writing what sells, but I couldn’t agree with Ruta more on this point. If you write a book you’re passionate about, it will be an amazing story that will find its audience. Between Shades of Grey is the story of a teenager whose family was captured during Stalin’s reign of terror. Don’t think I’ve ever seen historically accurate prisoner stories on a list of market trends, yet the novel is a fantastic, award-winning success. And Ruta’s keynote discussing her personal family history and the lengths she went to in preparation for writing this novel was even more phenomenal.

1. Tony Diterlizzi” “What would Young Tony love that Old Tony can now create?” Never forget who we write for: the kiddos!

About Jennifer Kay

Jennifer Kay is a KidLit author and Structural Engineer. She has a VCFA MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, is an SCBWI Rockford Network Rep, edits the SCBWI IL Prairie Wind, and belongs to Mystery Writers of America. Jennifer works as a writer, freelance editor, literary agency reader, and creative writing teacher.
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