Notes from the Iowa SCBWI Conference

What’s really cool about recording my conference notes in an LJ entry is I’ll always be able to find them!

On Friday night, Lin Oliver (Executive Director of SCBWI) talked about how SCBWI began (which was interesting to hear again…what must it feel like to be her or Steve and look out over this organization that began with the two of them in Lin’s kitchen 35 years ago and is now 20,000 members strong???)

The theme of the conference was humor, so I think one of the best things she had to say on the subject was: comedy is only funny if it resonates with truth.

Then she gave her eight “FUNNIEST TIPS ON WRITING” (which she stole from other children’s book authors):

1) From Sid Fleischman: WRITING IS TURNING YOUR WORST MOMENTS INTO MONEY. Your worst moment is something that MATTERS…the worst thing for a writer (the fatal flaw) is when the story doesn’t matter. Using your worst moments in a story helps you get to the truth of emotion and human vulnerability.

2) From Bruce Coville (who was also at this conference): TAKE A LOT OF SHOWERS. Some of us get our best ideas in the shower. That’s when we relax and get rid of all the “rules” running around inside our heads. Ideas are allowed to blossom. We need to respect that mysterious thing that lives inside us (our subconsious? talent? whatever we want to call it…the thing that motivates us to be true).

3) (She wasn’t sure where this one came from…possibly Bruce again) FOLLOW YOUR WEIRDNESS. People read to know another person. We each have something unique to say — it’s in our “weirdness.” Follow the wild things. But be careful…as Richard Peck said, “just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting.” Another trouble with manuscripts Lin sees before the National SCBWI conference is a lot of them tend to be things she’s seen before.

4) From Norma Fox Mazer: WEAR A HATE WHILE YOU WRITE. I heard Norma say this at a National SCBWI conference a while back. She wears a hat over her eyes while she writes the first draft so she can’t see the words as she’s typing them. As writers we write scenes and images that are expressed in words. If you can see the scene, you’re not focused on words, and that’s a good thing. You’ll get depth and movement if you can SEE the character and the scene etc. (I can’t not look at the words while I’m writing, but what she says about seeing the scene is true for me…when the writing is flowing, when I’m “in the zone,” I am seeing and experiencing the scene!)

5) From Richard Peck: SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS YOU CAN IN FOOD COURTS (OR DRIVE A CARPOOL)…the point being you need to get invisible and LISTEN. The thing about the carpool is true! It’s AMAZING what kids will say in the car, even though somebody’s mom is right there in the front seat.

6) From Karen Cushman: ALWAYS WORK IN YOUR PAJAMAS. (I’m not in pajamas exactly, but I am in my loungewear right now…this is definitely one of the perks to being an author.) We are lucky…we’ve picked a profession that allows us to be free spirits. We get to have fun!

7)From E.B. White: JUMP INTO A STORY THE WAY YOU WOULD JUMP INTO THE OCEAN, READY TO SPLASH AROUND AND MAKE MERRY! (I LOVE that!)

8) (This time I’m not sure if she didn’t know who said this one or if I just didn’t write it down…) WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, REVERT TO UNDERPANTS. Underpants are inherently funny.

Lin also had some SERIOUS TIPS:

1) From Judy Blume: WRITE THE KIND OF BOOK YOU LIKE TO READ

2) From a filmmaker: OUR JOB IS 2 + 2, THEIR JOB IS 4. In other words, our job is to present the equation (i.e. write the book), interpreting it etc. is someone else’s job…let all that other stuff go

3) FOR EVERY ONE BOOK YOU WRITE, READ 1000!

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