Friday, July 31, 2015

3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)

We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.

So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.

As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.

My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.

Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.

So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:

1) Be kind to yourself.  This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.

A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference

We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!) can be paralyzing.  The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.

2) Take breaks. I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING!  That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry.  Ahhhhhh....

No--not me.

3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCRO®.


Although there have been many years I couldn't wait to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.

Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference.  Nope.  Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.

It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal.  (It's true--they have, you know.)

That's when I've learned I need to VELCRO® myself to real-life friends at the conference.  Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.

So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCRO® together for awhile.

And Campers--if you are going to any gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.

Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
click here for the rest of this poem

The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday to Keri Recommends today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland


Irene Latham said...

Dear April - if I was going to the conference (no, you can't make me!) I would totally Velcro with you. :) Love that so much! Great advice for any conference. I'm happy for all those who get to meet YOU. xo

Carol said...

What great advice! I thought I was the only one who gets totally overwhelmed by a million people in one place who are all much better at what they do than I am! Thank you!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Thank you, April, for that wise, tender poem and for your expert advice especially regarding Facebook and the way we count the things that are wrong with us. I needed that right now, since I'm not doing anything official for my writing this summer at all and asking, "What's wrong with me that I didn't sign up for ANYTHInG?!"

Linda B said...

Perhaps I'll find the courage to go some day. Your words are helpful, April, & when I go, I will certainly find you for a bit of velcroing at this daunting place. The poem is sweet, love that "clearing the sill of the world".

laurasalas said...

I love your Velcro analogy, April. Have a fabulous time at the conference!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Oh, what good advice! I love the VELCRO® concept! I'll try to remember it & put it into practice. xox

Charles Waters said...

Excellent advice, April. And I dare say whoever hasn't had those same feelings are you have are lying and are Martians. Or both.

Joyce Ray said...

April, imagine you taking the time to post from the Conference floor! I've never attended the big one, only New England annually and New York once. Your advice makes so much sense. And I love Wilbur's poem. Don't we write for those moments when we lift off the chair back and sail on through? Have a great conference and magical memories with your writing community!

Buffy Silverman said...

What great advice, April! And since I can't velcro myself to you at a conference, I am going to velcro your quote to my wall: Just for today, be open to the possibility hat there is nothing wrong with you. Wise words.

Keri said...

Ah, April! Such a perfect post and poignant reminder of the single time I went "to nationals" as we said. It was the year of the Disco Mermaids, and my manuscript was critiqued by Lee Bennett Hopkins. He gave me encouragement to continue. Maybe some day I will return and Velcro with you! Safe travels after you pour yourself into your students!

Damon Dean said...

April, your three discoveries are empowering. Being ourself, and satisfied with where we are at in the moment, is liberating. That freedom allows us to soak up all the good in a crowd of like-passioned writers like a sponge unsqueezed. Thanks for this post.

Carmela Martino said...

What a great post, April. I'd love to attend, if only to VELCRO® with you. :-)
Thanks for the poem--it's new to me and I love it!
Hope this year's conference was great for you.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Irene--I'm coming to your house at 5 in the morning to bring you to the next conference.

Carol ~ so many of us have a love/sad relationship with the quiet life of a writer. We love it and we feel lonely. We choose it for the quiet, we're uncomfortable in a HUGE crowd, yet we crave our peeps.

I am trying for the middle ground of a circle of eight-to-ten. Everyone else, please leave the room.

I hope the quote helps, Heidi. Even when I was lying in bed the night before the conference feeling like a loser, feeling scared and competitive and beaten, when I remembered the quote, my body relaxed; I decided I was supposed to be feeling exactly what I was feeling. And with that, the tension and anxiety disippated.

Linda--I swear it works. Find a good person who is at least slightly more outgoing than you are. Stick with her.

Charles--your comment about Martians made me laugh! Unrelated but slightly connected, I was just listening to Dan Santat's Caldicott speech. At one point he is talking about wanting to win the Caldicott when he says but if he's disappointed when he finds out he hasn't, it will be "like being disappointed because you never got to talk to aliens." Okay. I have no idea if that has any relevance to our discussion, but it's on my notepad today, so there you go.

Joyce--True Confessions: I didn't actually post from the conference floor. I posted the night before, but it went live when I was on the conference floor. Does that count?

Buffy!That is my quote of the year...and just last week I pasted it on MY wall, too! Is that the Twilight Zone music I hear?

Keri, Damon and Carmela ~ there were many bright moments at the conference for me...and some during which I wrestled with my shyness, too. I kept accepting, accepting, accepting. Please do come and let's VELCRO(R) next time!