Writing with an eye toward publication can be a spirit-killing career path. Although I know, and believe, that, as Joan Baez said, “Action is the antidote to despair,” sometimes taking action is the hardest thing to do. When you’ve had a long apprenticeship, and your move into having a novel published seems to lie in the hands of capricious and unfeeling Chance, it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to send the work out again, or to tackle yet another revision.
Those are the times when having a writing community and attending a conference can save a writer’s sanity. There have been a few times in the last eleven years (the time I’ve been seriously pursuing a writing career) that I’ve been tempted to just give up and walk away. Those times coincide with the death of family members I held dear, and I know that grief played a huge role in my questioning of my work. The first time, my daughter’s despair at the thought that I might stop writing was enough to help me limp along into another period of relative optimism. This latest time, it’s been the encouragement and friendship of my writing tribe. I can’t bear the thought of losing my place among them, so I continue to send out my work. (I’ve never been able to stop actually writing, though I’ve been advised that a hiatus would not be a bad idea.)
This last weekend, my commitment to the tribe paid off in a big way. I attended the Fall Conference of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI. I went because I always go, because some of my best friends are the movers and shakers that make the conference happen, and because I always get something useful out of conferences. This time, I was blown away. Bruce Coville gave the opening keynote, and his boundless enthusiasm for writing, writers, and readers, was clear in his voice, his body language, and his humor.
Bruce reminded us that our hearts, and children’s hearts, are hungry for real work. Meaningful work. Yes, my heart hungers to write the best books I can, so that they can reach out and feed the imaginations of my readers. He spoke of the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues for writers, reminding us that we must work, and work with joy and passion, embracing life. Reminding us that even, or perhaps especially, the worst things that happen can be material for our work. I’m honored to be part of the tribe that Bruce describes as “Storytellers, dream makers, and heart healers.”
The other speaker who helped to shift my mood from despondency to enthusiasm was Traci Jones. Her workshop on multi-cultural writing was full of concrete information, and her banquet talk was delightful. She reminded us that not too long ago, she sat where we did, and she spoke about the challenges of writing her books while also raising kids and working at her day job. Her humor had us laughing at our shared experience, yet she reminded us that we must take ourselves seriously if we expect anyone else to.
The editors and agent at this conference were among the friendliest I’ve met. Usually the “Industry Panel” is not heavy on comedy. This is where the editors and agents at a conference answer questions about their work and their houses, trends in publishing and what they’re looking for. But the combination of Elizabeth Law, Elena Mechlin, Kate Harrison, and Rotem Moscovich proved to be very entertaining. Even though long ago I realized that picture books are the hardest genre of children’s books to write, hearing Rotem and Kate and Elena talk about them made me wish I had the calling to pursue that form. In fact, I wished I could write something that each of them would love, not just to see my work in print, but because each of them would be a delight to work with. They did get me to thinking about projects that I have languishing in early drafts that I could take out of the drawer and revisit. That in itself was worth the price of admission.