Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Morning Blahg: SCBWI Western Washington Conference

I have learned something about myself through attending the SCBWI WW Conference this weekend.  I'm a conference wimp.  I do not have the endurance to make it through the entire thing, at least not the way I was doing it.  I will mentally and physically prepare myself next year to meet the challenge of making it through the entire event.

Of course that was not all I learned.  I learned things vital to honing my craft, and also how to get the most out of my conference.  I'm going to start with the latter.

One very important thing I forgot, and remembered Friday night after I was already there, bring business cards.  You talk to so many people, you will want a card with all your vitals on it.  I am an idiot and didn't even think about it until I was already there mingling with the 400 writers in attendance (not to mention the agents and editors).

Pace yourself.  These are long days.  There is a Friday night social.  Have a couple drinks, mingle, then go to bed.  Things start bright and early especially if you're a conference virgin.  I may have stayed up a bit too late, then had to be at orientation by 7:30 the next morning.  I had to take a breather between my last session and the wine and cheese hour to catch my second wind.  AND, it is not a good idea to go out and close the bars down with your conference Bestie, Jarucia, AFTER the dance, then stay up talking for another hour.  Nope, that will definitely make you miss stuff.

This absolute exhaustion made me miss out on three keynotes, by E. Lockhart, Dan Santat, and Holly Black, which sucked big time.  Which brings me to this:  I think I may even book an extra day at the hotel and leave MONDAY, so I don't have to think about the long drive home.

Now, let's go back to the dance.  Do NOT be afraid to look stupid.  People attending the more social events of the conference are there to have fun and mingle, just like you.  So what if they want you to dress up like you came to the future?  Do it.  I was adamant about NOT dressing up.  No way uh uh wasn't going to happen.  Then Jarucia texted me and said she was dressing up, but just a little.  Luckily I had brought twice the amount of clothing I did (which I always do, "packing light" is not in my vocab)  I put on a tank with some sequins and beads around the neck, did my hair up in a high pony tail, put on three shades of eye shadow and purple blush, and called myself one of Capt. Kirk's bitches, but not the green one.  And you know what?  I didn't think I'd dance.  I didn't think I'd have fun, but . . . wait for it . . . I did.  Many were dressed up, many were dancing, many were having a good time, just like me. 

And because this weekend is so full and jam packed, don't even think you'll have time to read or write or do anything aside from attending conference events and sleeping.  I brought my laptop.  I looked at it for a little bit on Friday when I got there, and that was it.

You do not need to bring a big bag.  A tote bag, sure.  Mine was too big and cumbersome and started irritating me after about ten minutes. They sell awesome SCBWI totes there.  Buy one as a souvenir.

Come hungry.  No, I don't mean for that book deal, I mean literally hungry.  It is obscene how much food they give you.  Bagels, croissants, fruit, coffee, cheese for breakfast.  Their lunches were more than I usually eat in a day.  A GIANT sandwich (I am not even exaggerating), fruit cup, potato chips, cookie larger than what is good and pure in the world.  I ate my sandwich both days, the fruit the first day, I hope my maid enjoyed the cookies and chips.  Oh, and then dinner.  Huge spread.

If you have a shell, get out of it.  I took some big leaps this weekend.  You would probably not know it from my writing, but I am insanely shy around people I don't know.  First night I sat at the bar by myself eating a salad, they opened registration and I pounced on the first person I saw sitting alone, begging him to let me sit with him.  His name was Stephen (I think, I met A LOT of people), and I really appreciated that he let me hang out with him and his friend until Jarucia got there.  Totally out of my comfort zone.

The second afternoon, I was taking a break (because I was so damn tired) eating pita and hummus in the bar.  A woman came in and sat nearby.  After sitting there for awhile, I finally struck up a conversation. Her name was Sunny, she was a sweet woman who introduced me to a couple other women, one with whom I had a few more conversations throughout the weekend Sharon, and I was so thankful.

And here's a biggee.  You know, seeing these writers up on these panels, and teaching these sessions, I realized that once my book came out, people just might want me to speak.  In public. In front of people.  Which scares the hell out of me.  So one of my sessions was a  writing workshop about character development.  And he asked if anyone wanted to share, and before I could argue with it, my hand shot up.  I did explain to everyone that I volunteered because of my fear of public speaking and apologized in advance if my voice quavered or I passed out.  My voice did quaver, and my body shook from fear, but luckily, I kept from fainting.

I think lastly (probably not lastly, but all I can think about writing at this time) I urge you to talk to people.  Mingle, meet, introduce.  Many of the people there are in the same boat, or at an earlier stage, or later stage in their writing journey.  You can learn a lot, you can teach, you can share, commiserate, whatever you want.  I think in general, writers are nice, caring people.  And I think, as one of the faculty members, Roseanne Parry, said, we're not in competition with each other.  She's right.  We work hand in hand to create art.  To inspire each other.  To promote each other.  We celebrate each other.

I probably didn't meet as many people as I would have liked, my shell harder to crack than I thought it would be, but I did meet some very kind, creative people.  The weekend was invaluable to me.  I'm so glad I finally decided to take in a conference.  Next year (or who knows, maybe this summer in L.A.) I'm going to try to break that shell down a little more, and meet more people in the industry.  No matter who it is, or what stage they might be in their journey to publication, I'm sure I will benefit from having met them.

Tomorrow I'll talk about some of the sessions I took and what they meant to me.
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