Monday, May 14, 2012

That wasn't at all what I expected.

On Saturday, May 12, 2012, I attended the SCBWI Illinois Spring Thaw Event. This was my first writer's conference and I did so only because I was encouraged by my editor. Let's face it, she demanded I go. 
I did not want to go. In fact as soon as I arrived I texted her saying that I may hate her for insisting I go. She politely responded that I should grow a pair, grab a muffin, and find a seat. She knew it would be a good experience for me and would help with my current situation of writers-block mixed with writers-discouragement. I am told that every writer spends time with these two personalities and if given their own due, they become cliche seventies bar scene characters and they hook up, producing a love child that ends up poisoning creativity. 

I decided to stay. I know I can write but let's face it, there are trained chimps that can write and they are getting better press than I am. As a writer I have searched, I suppose as all writers do, for validation that my work is worthwhile. Since I am not published nor represented by an agent, I do not feel validated. And yet, writing is the one thing I do that I throw my entire self into and leave feeling purely sublime. It is caffeine and heroin and a mother's hug and a full body massage rolled into one. Odd how I feel like I need validation after that description.

Still, with external validation nowhere to be found and the goal of being a published author remaining just out of reach, I am flirting with massive discouragement. If I can't be published, well then for God's sake, someone tell me that already so I can move on!

Inside the beautiful Thornhill Education Center at the Morton Arboretum, throngs of writer types mingled as I moved slowly through the crowd to the registration table, all the while waiting for someone to extend a finger in my direction while screaming, "FRAUD!"  That never happened. In fact, everyone was really nice to me.

Registration done, I made my way to a side table, determined not to cause a commotion or distraction for the other 'good' writers. As it turns out I ended up sitting directly adjacent to Esther Hershenhorn, a famous writer. I seriously began to wonder if there was any security in this place at all as they were allowing a no talent schmuck like me to have such unfettered access to Ms. Hershenhorn. She was within arms reach!  What was wrong with these people? Didn't they know I have only 350 followers on Twitter? How was I going to dismiss my want to be a writer when people were being nice to me and I was getting first class access to those recognized for their writing?

The opening exercise was touching, to say the least. In the middle of our tables were branches with seed paper book silhouettes hanging on them. Each of us were instructed to take one and write the name of our current work in progress on it as a way to make it something real.

The keynote speakers were Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver who back in 1971 founded SCBWI. Literally hundreds of children's book titles were created by them. If anyone could tell me I didn't deserve to be a writer, these two should be able to do it with one arm out the window. I waited but never did I hear anything close to that. Instead I heard great encouragement and enthusiasm. They shared stories of their journey and provided wonderful advice and instruction for seasoned and novice writers alike, especially those who were felling down on themselves.

When the day was done, I felt like a portion of me would never be the same again. I came there hoping to be turned away with the rabble and by the end I felt like there was no way I could ever leave. Steve, Lin, thank you both so much for founding SCBWI and causing to bring about a wonderful community of supportive creative people. I am glad to be a member and promise I will not forget all of the lessons learned, especially the one about treating myself like a professional.