What Other Great Writers Said About Writing

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Authors Debbie Ridpath Ohi (also an illustrator!), Bitsy Kemper, Ellen Hopkins, Marcie Colleen taking a conference break

Why reinvent the wheel, right? There are so many great writers with so many great thoughts on writing, that I thought I’d share some of the highlights from what they told me or what I overheard heard [read: eavesdropping] at the SCBWI conference last month in L.A.

I admit the haunted hotel creeped me out to the point I didn’t sleep for five days so some of my notes may be totally made up, I’m not 100% sure. But they’re mostly accurate.

 

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Drew Daywalt, @DrewDaywalt, author of the wonderful and incredibly creative picture book  The Day the Crayons Quit, and follow on book The Day the Crayons Came Home, said he worked in Hollywood, where it was cruel and knocked him down, and when he started working in the children’s book industry it was like “a million little hands picked him up.” [We’re like that, right? Such a wonderful tribe!] He shared how writing is so personal, that when you write something and hand it to someone to read, it’s like you’re standing there buck naked saying, “You like it?” But he challenged us to write anyway and not hold back.

The crazier they tell you you are, the more you know you are on the right track.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

and

To find your voice, find out who you are, and were.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

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Pam Munoz Ryan, author of picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA novels but mostly known for her award-winning Esperanza Rising, talked about the importance of persistence, but not necessarily writing every day, if that doesn’t work for you. She herself needs breathing room and doesn’t like to force creativity. She published her first picture book at age 43! With over 40 books to her name now, including NYT best sellers and many award winners like a 2016 Newberry, she can take all the breathing room she needs. She just wishes writers would ask her about failures as often as they ask her how to get an agent. She points out success comes with all kinds of lessons learned.

Momentum is far more important than inspiration.”

-Pam Munoz Ryan, author

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Then I had some great notes from Jon Klassen but I can’t read my writing, so here’s a slide from his presentation. I think it’s his presentation.

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Author Marie Lu said “it took her 12 years to become an overnight sensation.” She encourages writers to write, even if it’s not perfect, just write. Be brave.

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You can’t perfect something that doesn’t exist.”

-Marie Lu, author

Author Bruce Coville talked about plot and tension and getting readers invested in the story.

Figure out what your main character does not want. And give it to him.

-Bruce Coville, author

Author and illustrator Sophie Blackall told us to not hold back.

Don’t be in it to make money. The making is the best part. Give it all now, something more will arise.

-Sophie Blackall, author and illustrator

Richard Peck was his wonderful self. Here’s just a sample of his charm:

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[Kids are sending] 250 texts a day. 250 texts and not a semicolon among them.”

“Readers aren’t looking for the author/writer in the book, they are looking for themselves.”

“If our readers don’t like our first line they’ll never read the second.”

“I found my first line on the second paragraph on page 157.”

-Richard Peck, author

EDITORS AND AGENTS

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Justin Chanda, VP and Publisher of four children’s imprints at Simon & Schuster (S&S Books for Young Readers, McElderberry Books, Atheneum, and new Salaam Reads-referred to by insiders as “BAMS”) said more books are selling, but it’s bigger numbers of fewer titles. Blockbusters are driving sales. Good for the industry, maybe not good for beginner authors. He talked about how trends are the mortal enemy of the author, and how we just need to write what we need to write without thinking or caring about trends.

Erase ‘trend’ from your thinking. #endthetrend”

 -Justin Chanda, VP & Publisher at Simon & Schuster

Brooks Sherman, @byobrooks, agent from The Bent Agency, talked about how manuscripts need to grab his attention and not let go until he’s fulling invested in the story. His advice was common to other agents and editors and worth repeating: don’t start your story with a dream, on the first day of school, or moving day. (In fact, consider starting your story in chapter two, he said. Most manuscripts should.) Be serious in your query, not cutesy. Agents are looking to build a long term relationship are aren’t looking just at this one manuscript.

Openings need world building, plot development, and character development all woven together. Not alternating.”

-Brooks Sherman, literary agent

 

About breaking the rules:

You can’t do things badly, but if you do them well, you can do whatever you want.”

-Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books

General writing advice:

Rejection isn’t personal. You might like something but you don’t always get to buy it.”

-Matt Ringler, Senior Editor at Scholastic

I can’t be passionate about it [your manuscript] if you aren’t.”

-Reka Simonsen, Exec Editor at Atheneum

Don’t get stuck on one project for many years. Set it aside for a while. It takes courage to put something away.”

-Kathleen Rushall, agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

An author is a writer for a career.”

-Kathleen Rushall, agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Those things that you’re weird about, that’s where your stories are going to come from.”

-Allyn Johnston, VP & Publisher, Beach Lane Books

Now, my friends, if you can’t find inspiration here, you won’t find it!

Nothing beats the in-person interaction of a conference. The energy, the face to facing…it’s worth the drive and the prep and the hassle. And maybe even a haunted hotel.

Hope this blog has been helpful. It took me much longer than planned to get it all down. Let me know your favorite conference takeaways. I’m always up for learning more.

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