Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 NOSCBWI Conference Recap

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended the super-awesome 2011 Northern Ohio SCBWI conference this past weekend.  This was my fourth time attending the yearly conference and, as always, they put on a great event!  (The NOSCBWI conference was the very first conference I ever attended back when I still didn't even have a full draft of my manuscript!)  In case you couldn't be there, here's a recap of the breakout sessions and keynotes I attended.

Keynote 1: Bruce Hale "Warrior's Mind, Writer's Mind"
Author Bruce Hale got our conference off on the right foot with the Friday night keynote address.  He talked about how writing is a war we fight with ourselves, and I couldn't agree more!  He had 6 steps for writers to follow.  My favorites were:
-"Start a 'good habit' habit" (Make small goals and steadily eliminate distractions--like checking email 50 times a day!  Just think how much you'd get done...)
-"Face the Iron Tiger" (A funny story about his dog taking baby steps to face her fears of a lawn ornament.  If she can do it, we can do it, too!)
I don't want to spoil all the surprises, so you'll just have to make sure you see him at a conference someday to hear the rest!  I must say, Bruce Hale is simply hilarious and even ended his keynote with a sing-a-long.  What a great way to start the event!  :)

Keynote 2: Andrew Harwell "Hard Work Pays Off"
HarperCollins Associate Editor Andrew Harwell gave the Saturday morning welcome address.  He shared success stories from writers who kept at it, often over many years.  He also debunked the notion that "overnight success stories" are the stuff of fairy tales and that no one usually hears about all the hard work authors put in before they landed on the New York Times Bestseller list.  It made us all feel like maybe we will see that light at the end of the tunnel someday... 

Breakout A: Bruce Hale "7 1/2 Secrets of Humor Writing"
Bruce Hale was so funny, I just had to attend his first breakout session.  In it, he discussed how writers can find humor in everything if they look closely enough.  He also went over the "Rule of 9"--that for every 10 jokes you write, 9 will stink (badly).  Lastly, he recommended simply writing what you think is funny, and hopefully other people will laugh, too.  (My goodness we laughed a lot in this session!  I worked off all those muffin calories from breakfast!)

Breakout B: Andrew Harwell "Keep Your Eye On The Arc"
Andrew Harwell's breakout session focused on arcs of novels--both the plot and character kind.  He said both arcs should closely relate to each other and end with the reader feeling satisfied.  A fun thing he recommended was to set up details that would "pay off" later (i.e. like the Basilisk fang in "Chamber of Secrets" showing up again in "Deathly Hallows").  He also reminded us to never stop moving our story forward.  If something in our stories brings the movement to a halt, it needs to go!

Keynote 3: Mary Kole "3 Things That Separate An Aspiring Writer From A Published Author"
Agent Mary Kole gave our lunch-time keynote address.  (She presented at our SCBWI chapter's fall mini-conference last year and is such a delight!)  Mary discussed changes in the the Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult markets, emphasizing how "High Concept" work is highly sought after.  It's important for writers and illustrators to be mindful of these changes so they can give themselves the very best chance for success.  Her "3 Things" she encouraged us to pay special attention to in our own writing were:
1) Character
2) Voice
3) Authority
So, if you can write a book with multifaceted characters, an "extra-oomph" voice, and craft it so that the writing simply melts away, then you're golden.   (Piece of cake, right?)

Breakout C: Bruce Hale "Becoming An Authorpreneur"
Yes, I attended ANOTHER session with Bruce Hale, but how could I not with a session title like that?  In this session, Bruce talked about how authors need to take the bull by the horns and accept responsibility for their book's (and career's) success.  This was great for all authors--whether published or not.  He talked about how (tasteful) self-promotion is not a dirty word and that writers and illustrators need to learn how to celebrate their achievements and strive to make themselves seen.  He also recommended finding your "niche" (i.e. humor writer, outdoorsy writer, dog-loving illustrator, etc.) and to take advantage of social media (hooray for blogs!)  Lastly, we all worked on our "elevator pitches," and Bruce reminded us that it's nice to keep our spiel conversational so we don't end up sounding like robots to agents and editors.

Breakout D: Linda Gerber "Storyboard Plotting--Visualizing the Four-Act Structure"
Awesome author Linda Gerber (I know her!) gave a session about plotting stories in a Four-Act Structure using elements of the "Hero's Journey."  (A good term to Google if you're new to the concept.)  While writing, she plots her story on one of those science fair tri-fold boards to make sure the ups and downs of the action are where they need to be.  Each of the four acts is divided into sequences with turning points in each (i.e. "Everything seems to be going well when SUDDENLY...")  It was really neat to see a three-dimensional plot structure and the format is great because you can you move your plot points around on sticky-notes.  I'll definitely be trying this method sometime on one of my own WIP's!

Keynote 4: Gayle Brown "The Creative War At The Heart Of Children's Books"
Art Director Gayle Brown gave our closing keynote to end our day of fun and education.  My head was already stuffed to capacity by this time, so props to her for managing to cram some more info into us all!  Gayle discussed the battle between following our hearts and filling our wallets--a battle most writers are familiar with.  Sure, writers can write to trends and try to make the big bucks, but when writers write from the heart, their work is more meaningful and lasting.  She spoke about many of the Newbery Award books and how we should strive to write "timeless" books, too.  Gayle really left us all with something to aspire to.

And with that, I went home, bored my hubby to tears as I spouted off everything I learned, and fell asleep before my head hit my pillow.

Of course, there were many other breakout session and presenters, but this is just how I spent my time at the conference.  It was a fun (albeit exhausting) weekend and now I have so many new tips and tidbits to try out on my own writing!  If you're an Ohio writer or illustrator and you've never been to Cleveland to attend this conference, you should definitely try to make it next year.  I know I'll be there!

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