I love writer’s conferences. All of that passion and creativity buzzing around in one place — it’s enough to raise the roof off a building! (Especially when there’s a karaoke machine, but that’s another story…)
Last year, when I was attending every children’s writing conference known to humanity, I began, sometimes, to eschew keynote speeches. Not because I don’t find them inspiring (I do!), but because I was holding what I now know to be a mistaken belief that they weren’t specific enough to assist me in my craft.
I figured I was better off working on my own writing, scheduling one-on-one meetings or preparing for pitch sessions and then attending the more craft-focused sessions.
Let me explain.
One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately in my writing is my failure (fear?) to go deeper and get beyond the initial premise, trope, joke, wordplay, etc. My agent, while praising my writing in general, has been encouraging me to take more risks and reach past the obvious. We’ve talked about writing character bios, putting characters in different situations, switching genres or formats. These suggestions have been both scary and frustrating to me even though I know she wants them to be liberating.
As a divorced mother of two young children who also runs an online writing business, my actual writing time is often hard to come by (especially during summer vacation). So when I do sit down with that precious nugget of time to write, I want that writing to count. Meaning, words on the page of a manuscript that might actually get published one day. I’m completely cool with the fact that there will be many revisions, but I seldom allow myself to “play” with scenarios or characters or tense or format. I make a choice and stick to it because that has always seemed like the most efficient way to get that writing “done.”
But then I found myself in the auditorium listening to Peter talk about how he connects to his inspiration in many ways — surrounding himself with his favorite books or art or by taking himself to places that inspire him. He said he lets his imagination “go” by doing dozens of sketches before settling on the “look” of a character. While preparing to illustrate the Caldecott Honor-winning book CREEPY CARROTS, he said he watched dozens of old episodes of The Twilight Zone, old film noir, and science fiction films. He studied old movie credits and posters all in an attempt to infuse his art with the old-time feel of his childhood favorites while still keeping his personal style. (P.S. You can learn more about this yourself if you watch Peter’s fab Creepy Carrots video!)
That’s when it hit me! Experimentation and play, allowing yourself to marinate in inspiration, trying different angles — all of this is as integral to the product as the actual “writing.” It took listening to Peter’s speech, combined with the recent conversation I’d had with my agent, for that epiphany to strike. As a goal-oriented person, it’s always been difficult for me to value the process of creating more than the product. But now I’m excited about immersing myself in the vast options available to my characters and stories, mining those options while still being willing to change mid-stream.
I won’t be avoiding keynotes at conferences anymore, because by learning about someone else’s process, we also learn about our own. We all create differently, but at the end of the day, the drive and the passion is what unites us as artists, and that is confirmed each and every time I find myself in one of those auditoriums.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some character bios to sketch out!
Have you ever learned something significant about your own creative process by listening to others? Share in the comments!Categories: Agents, Children's Books, Creativity, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: Author, Caldecott-Honor, Children's Books, Conferences, Creativity, Creepy Carrots, Julie Hedlund, NJ-SCBWI, Peter Brown, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing