Last year I almost didn’t go to the Oregon SCBWI Conference. I even told my buddy in Portland I wasn’t going to go. Not this year. I was just not up for it. Then, months later, something – the same something that tells me when it’s time to start a new story or go get that mole checked out – said “You should go, and you should do a manuscript critique.” I realize this may sound strange if you’re not someone used to helpful brain-based voices telling you what to do. But, I’m a writer, and I tend to listen to the voices in my head; they’ve never steered me wrong. So, I went to the website. I looked at the pictures of agents and editors still taking manuscripts; I read their bios; and I picked one. One with a friendly face. One who grew up in a small town in Oregon. One who looked like she’d be easy for someone like me to talk to. Then I paid my fee and sent in my pages.
On the last day of the conference, during the last consultation spot, I met with Kerry. We talked – but not about the manuscript. We talked about growing up in Oregon. About small towns and food trucks and trips to the coast. She told how much she loved my pages. She told me to send her the full.
So, I did. And she loved it. And she became my agent. All because of the Oregon SCBWI Conference.
This year I signed up immediately after I found out my book sold. It was my “you’re really a writer now” gift to myself. It was also a chance to say thanks. Thanks to my friends who I knew would be there, and thanks to the ladies who work so hard putting the event together. Plus, Matt de la Pena and Victoria Jamieson were going to be the keynote speakers. Who would want to miss that?
The conference was wonderful. I met new friends and hung out with old ones. I took a ton of notes – because every presenter had such good advice to share. It was so good, that for all of Saturday it was easy to just concentrate on listening and learning and being inspired. As long as I didn’t look at Sunday’s schedule – and the panel scheduled for the morning – everything was cool.
Yep, that’s my name in the program. Right there with the likes of Rosanne Parry. She with her four novels, and me, with my teeny tiny book deal. The title of the panel? Local Success.
Three things you should know about me:
- I’m mostly shy.
- I’m a much better listener than I am speaker.
- The hardest part of working as a teacher was talking in front of large groups.
Thankfully, no one really wanted to hear about me. I could talk about SCBWI. About the great people I met there (like Catherine who took the panel picture). About how the organization helped me. And about how supportive the writing community is. So that’s what I did. Even though I was mostly terrified. Even though was certain I was not talking into the microphone right. Even though I was not 100% sure that what I was saying wasn’t coming out in some sort of high frequency gibberish.
And, I survived – without breaking out in hives or falling over in a freaked-out faint. Which pleased me. But what pleased me more was the people who came up to me after. The people who said thank you. The one’s who said my story made them feel like they could meet an agent and get a book deal, too. Which is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to dispel the myth that you have to be super cool or super connected or super important for this writing thing to work out. I wanted people to get that if I could do it – if I could sign up for a consult. If I could drive 5 hours to better my craft. If I could be brave and talk to people and share my work and ask for feedback, they could too.
Because I really think what I said is true. Success lies in a succession of tiny brave steps. Writing the book. Taking classes. Asking questions. Chatting with strangers. Sending out the query. Meeting the “scary” New York people. And generally being kind and open and hopeful.
SCBWI is a good place to practice all of that. Plus you learn a ton – and even meet amazing writers like Matt and Victoria, and Rosanne. Who could ask for more?