I drove home from Princeton yesterday with a smile on my face. I felt like a child again – a dreamer. I was a sea capain, his ship, and its wide-eyed figurehead all in one, returning with bountiful treasure. Yes, the weekend was that wonderful. Yes, the people I met were that kind.
I have found my tribe. And it only took 36 years.
I'm talking, of course, about the 2015 NJ SCBWI Conference. Over the course of the weekend, I attended workshops on picture book writing, chapter book writing, finding an agent, working with an editor, and so much more. My work was critiqued by no less than nine different people, including peers and industry professionals, and yet I left the conference feeling more confident. Not because I was told my writing was brilliant and required no revisions - that most certainly did not happen. What did happen was that people were honest with me. There was no condescension or passive aggression or false praise. There was truth. There was camaraderie. I learned so much from my peers - from their critiques and workshops. And I'm pretty sure I made friends that will last a lifetime.
Writing, even when it involves creating friendly monsters or talking animals, is a lonely pursuit. Your day to day tends not to be populated by likeminded individuals. After all, we are the reclusive ones, the glorious oddballs. So when we find each other, it can feel like a deep space rescue.
"Don't try to be normal, because what you do is extraordinary."
- John M. Cusick (Agent, Author, & NJSCBWI closing keynote speaker)
So if, like me, you know that writing books for children is your reason for being, then run, don't walk, to the next SCBWI conference. I have heard that New Jersey's chapter is particularly special, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I can't imagine better. People came in from all over the country to learn and share and hug, and maybe, just maybe, to have the occasional sword fight.