I want to start by saying this year's Boise conference was IMO the best we've ever had. Since we held it in conjunction with BSU (Go Broncos!), we got the added benefit of speakers linked to their literacy department, including author David Ward and professor Stan Steiner. They were wonderful.
Our first presenter was Lin Oliver, executive director and founding member (38 years ago) of SCBWI. If you ever get the chance to meet her, do. She's a lovely, warm, witty, riotously funny person. She shared with us the thirteen best pieces of writing advice she's ever heard.
1. Define yourself as a professional. Call yourself a writer, give yourself a place for your writing to occur and do other things representative of your new job.
2. Find your own voice. Judy Bloom's advice for finding your voice: Write the kind of book you like to read.
3. Write from empathy--not an urge to teach, preach, reminisce or be sentimental. Kids don't want to read a story about how cute kids are.
4. Paula Danziger's three rules for a solid plot:
A. Come up with a character you LOVE.
B. Decide what they want MOST in the world.
C. Decide what's keeping them from it.
5. It's not a children's book if the kid doesn't solve the problem.
6. Susan Patron's advice: Start the book on the day that's different.
7. Write in scenes. A scene starts the moment something new happens in the story.
8. Bruce Coville's advice: Follow your weirdness. (I very much cotton to this.)
9. Mine your embarrassment.
10. Eavesdrop. Listening is the most important skill of a writer. We are students of humanity.
11. Read your work aloud!
12. Do your market research. Don't send your picture book manuscript to a YA only publisher. You waste your time and money, the editor's time and you brand yourself as a non-professional. See item #1. There are many tools available for us to use:
A. SCBWI Market Report--lists agents, houses & submission guidelines, plus more.
B. SCBWI Monthly Bulletin--gives info about which editor is moving where
C. Read books! If your manuscript is a MG fantasy, find MG fantasys you like and see
who published them.
D. There is an "edited by" section on the SCBWI website to see who edited those books
that match your manuscript.
E. They also have a calendar of contests, awards, grants, and conferences--all of which a
professional author will be interested in!
13. Enjoy your creative life. Revel in the things that make you creative. Don't stare at the cursor blinking on your blank word doc. Take a walk, take a nap, take a shower, read a book...do whatever it is that inspires you. Inspiration has to happen before word one hits the page. And when you get to a stubborn point in your manuscript, the brainstorm that solves it will more likely happen in the shower than in your computer chair. As Sid Fleischman said, "In writing, nothing is wasted except the paper." Finally, spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers. They're the best inspiration of all. (To that I can attest!)