~by Amanda Smith
Much have been said, written and tweeted about the spectacular line-up of speakers at this year’s NESCBWI conference that took place in Springfield, MA, April 24-26. Congratulations to the coordinators. It was a magical event. As exhilarating as it was to hear Dan Santat talk about The Adventures of Beekle; as breathtakingly amazing as it was to enjoy Kwane Alexander recite his poetry; as tear-jerkingly inspiring as it was to hear Jo Knowles share about the liberation of her voice; as laugh-out-loud uplifting as it was to hear Marvin Terban present about the place of humor in books; the take-home nuggets and practical advice also came out of an abundance of hands-on, practical workshops.
So here, as John Hockenberry would say, is my take away:
· I learned I am not the only person to write a novel non-chronological and maddeningly non-linear. There were enough of us there to fill at least three workshops. Some of these non-linear thinkers even got published, as all three of these workshops were lead by accomplished authors who gave practical hands-on advice about how to structure a jumble of scenes until it is a well-constructed novel.
· I was reminded that since I draft on my computer, I need to use creative, hands on (yes, I need art supplies) ways to order, outline, plot and map. I have done this for longer works, but this year I've made the connection that I really need to do this with Picture Books, too.
· Play! I need to play more, and not get so stuck on finishing a project right away. I need to give myself time to look at the project and characters from all angles.
· Note cards are essential to writing. Note cards can be used for revision and outlining. They help you see the big picture. Am I starting in the right place? Do I have duplicate scenes? How is my pacing? Note cards are also wonderful for keeping track of agents. Katey Howes explains more about it here.
· Multi-colored sticky notes are also indispensable. They are helpful for outlining different characters, settings and conflict.
· Talking about characters – ask your characters questions. They have more to say than you might think.
· Color-code your characters. This is helpful throughout each stage of your novel’s construction.
· Color choices in your book can enhance mood and be used for character building. (A.C. Gaughen)
· Every scene is a mini-story, with its own arc. (Katie L. Caroll) And as “everyting has a purpose” (Dan Santat), every scene should either move the plot forwards or show character development.
· “Don’t let your process – or worry about your process – keep you from writing.” ( Lynda Mullaly Hunt) The pouring of the story onto the page is the most essential part. Always.
· Don’t censor. Learn from other points of view. Don’t censor yourself because, “voice is you writing on a piece of paper uncensored.” (Dan Santat)
· Yes’s and No’s. Kwame Alexander mentioned, almost as an aside, that we have to get the no’s out of the way, so the right yes can come. Jo Knowles encouraged me that, yes, I do have something to say. My voice counts. YOUR VOICE COUNTS. You can make a ripple or a wave and change a child’s life. Kwane said, “If I said yes and walk through the door, I will figure it out.” And Chris Cheng asked us what would happen if we said yes because “If I stay in the box, nothing happens.”
And so, I am saying yes. Yes to more submissions. Yes to different publishing opportunities. Yes to more behind-the-scenes-you-will-never-find-this-in-the-book work. Yes to art and office supplies. Yes to playing. Yes to getting out of my box. Yes. Yes. YES!
May you find the courage you need to say YES.
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