I just returned from the Rocky Mountain Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2014 fall conference – and it may have been my best conference experience yet.
I know, I know: I think I say that every year! But this particular year seemed to deliver exactly what I needed, leaving me recharged, filled with ideas to explore, and excited to dive back into creative work.
If you’re in need of a creative recharge, a conference is a fabulous remedy – but not one that’s always available. Fortunately, you can gain many of the same benefits even if you’re too late for this year’s RMC-SCBWI conference :). Read on for a few ideas gleaned from my recent conference experience…
1. Step away from the desk!
A change of scenery jars your brain out of its routine and forces you to turn off your autopilot. Just as important, stepping outside your ordinary environment removes the distractions of everyday responsibilities and worries — allowing your imagination room to play!
2. Find your flock
… swim with your school, hang with your tribe, hob with your nob — call it whatever floats your boat, but take time to hang out with like-minded creatives. Something magical happens when you get together with other artists. Conversation sparks ideas and insights. Problems get solved; obstacles shrink; and laughter shatters worries into a million pieces.
3. Bask in the glow
…of others’ success. Find a creative hero to inspire your creative journey. Some people inspire you to persevere in the face of failure. Others help you discover that success means something other than what you thought it did. Still others will simply surprise you into seeing new possibilities!
4. Collect new tools
Are you facing some special challenge? Take a class, grab a friendly expert, or download a craft book, and find some new tools to add to your toolbox. Applying additional elbow grease can solve some problems, but often you simply need a better tool for the job!
5. Get professional feedback
One of my favorite parts of the conference every year is that writers can receive feedback on their work from editors, agents, and published authors. Feedback comes in the form of manuscript critiques, prepared ahead of time by faculty members, as well as sessions where editors or agents react to first pages from conference attendees’ works-in-progress. Do you have a critique group that gives you feedback on your writing? If not, find one!
6. Encourage a newbie
However little you may know, chances are that someone else knows even less…and chances are that that someone could use a bit of encouragement, even if it’s only a smiling face.
At a conference, this might mean that you say hello to someone who looks lost, even if you feel just as lost as they appear. Away from a conference, it means leaving a comment on someone’s blog or Wattpad story, volunteering to mentor a young writer, or responding to that reader who has a question. I think you’ll be surprised how much helping someone else can recharge your own creative energy!
Why We Do What We Do
One of my favorite moments at this year’s conference was teaching a session on the children’s magazine market. I don’t love public speaking, but I DO love being able to answer questions from other writers who are excited about writing for kids and young adults. I love sharing what I’ve learned, what I’ve done right and where I’ve screwed up, and hearing about their experiences in turn.
Most of the time, I learn just as much from the people I’m “teaching” as they learn from me. That’s probably because none of us are only writers: We’re also teachers, parents, grandparents, literary specialists, bloggers, journalists, child advocates. We each bring our own reasons for writing for kids, and we each bring our own expertise to the conversation. I always walk away inspired and looking at things a little differently.
What do I love most about conferences? They help me remember why I do what I do: why I get up early to write, why I skip parties to write, why I keep at it even when books don’t sell or money’s tight…and why a single email from a single reader makes it all worthwhile.