NESCBWI 15 – Think Outside The Crayon Box

A week ago I was rushing around madly, checking I hadn’t forgotten anything, and preparing to drive up to Springfield, MA for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual spring conference.

I’d heard great things about this conference; that it was a little smaller than the New York one I attended last year, and a little friendlier, simply because everyone stays on at the hotel and doesn’t scatter around the city. I’d signed up for my first ever agent critique sessions. I had an amazing line-up of workshops to go to. That I was excited was probably the understatement of the year.

And the best part? The best part was that I wasn’t a ‘newbie’ travelling there on my own anymore. I actually knew a few people, either from twitter or from the New York conference. Bestest of all? Almost my entire critique group was going. I had backup. This was huge. I’m not a naturally outgoing person; I can fake it pretty well (I think!), but it’s hard. So having conference buddies was a big relief.

Now the conference has come and gone I can definitely say this was a very pleasant experience. The atmosphere was relaxed, great conversations were had in between and after the panels and workshops, and I didn’t spontaneously combust out of fear at my critique sessions.

Some of my personal programming highlights:

  • Keynote speeches – excellent, all of them, but we’re talking about personal favorites and my own was Jo Knowles, who made everyone cry – happy tears, though;
  • Great editing workshops by Katie Carroll (Post its! Pretty colors! Fun!) and Lea Wait, who gave us a fabulous checklist which I can’t wait to use;
  • Pitchapalooza run by the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (dare to get up on the stage and pitch your story in only one minute? No, but I did clap enthusiastically…);
  • The Saturday night diversity panel, featuring among other great writers my critique partner Cindy Rodriguez – great discussion on the subject;
  • Mining Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales to Write Fantasy, with Katie Carroll – very inspiring;
  • Fun workshops on worldbuilding with the best titles of the whole lot: Habitat for Superhumanity with Mike Jung and Killer Robots, Time Portals and Wizards with Carter Hasegawa;
  • And a workshop on writing LGBTQ characters by Ellen Wittlinger, which turned out to be full of great advice for writing any type of character.

But as I’d been warned, the best moments were the in-between ones, the impromptu conversations and the hanging out at night. It was truly a fantastic experience, one I hope to repeat next year. I’ll finish up with a few choice snippets of wisdom from some of the weekend’s workshops, and a reminder: getting out of your shell and facing an event like this hurts less than you would imagine. And guess what? It might even be a ton of fun.

Katie Carroll: Go beyond the Cinderella story when searching for inspiration. Think and read outside your comfort zone, and find what resonates with you by mining your own mind and heart. (on mining myths and fairy tales to write fantasy)

Ellen Wittlinger: ‘Otherness is transferable’, Lee Wind. Once you get to know someone, your prejudices fall away. You can ‘know’ someone through a book, face your prejudices by getting to know a character. (on why you should write LGBTQ characters)

Mike Jung: Once you’ve established the rules for your world, follow them consistently. (on worldbuilding)

Carter Hasegawa: Question everything in your world, push all the limits and take it further. (on strong worldbuilding without holes)

Katie Carroll: With the exception of opening, escalation, climax, and closing, the purpose of a scene is to move the plot forward and/or to develop a character. If it’s not doing either, consider if it needs to be there. (on revision and editing)

Setting up the bookstore

Setting up the bookstore

Critique group R&R

Critique group R&R

View from my hotel room

View from my hotel room

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