Today I had the chance to attend a writing conference with Mette Ivie Harrison and Rick Walton, both relatively well-known authors in children's publishing.
I'd forgotten how invigorating conferences can be. There's something about meeting with other people who share my passion and learning lots of good ideas about writing that gets me inspired to write more. (Of course, the same thing happens to me at academic conferences--and I'm going to one next weekend--so we'll see if I wind up with conflicting goals afterward!)
Mette and Rick both talked to us for a bit before and after the critique sessions, then we broke into groups for first-chapter or picture-book manuscript critiques. I was in the novel session, with Mette. It's always interesting to me how much I learn from the critique of other people's work--I learn what works in an intro, and what doesn't work as well.
And of course, the critique of my first chapter was really gratifying for me. I've looked at that chapter and revised it lots of times (I think I'm up to 7 or 8 now) and it's hard for me to see it clearly anymore. I always feel like my own writing isn't quite as good as I think it is. Mette had us read our chapter out loud (well, as much as we could read in 10 minutes). I kept thinking as I read that I just sounded silly (I suppose this is why I identify with my MC so well)--and then, miraculously, people started laughing at the right spots and I realized I'd done something right. Better yet, the only criticisms I got were minor suggestions (mostly about wording), which means I finally have the shape of the chapter down--and Mette even told me that it was ready to send out. (It's not--I mean, the first chapter may be, but I'm in a revision mess in the middle right now that I will start sorting out as soon as I sign off here). But. But. It was nice to finally realize that *maybe* this is something I can do, if I work at it hard enough.
I also realized that I'm a lousy judge of my own work. That's why I have a critique group--right?
Anyway, enough about me. I really wanted to record some of the things that stood out to me from the conference.
Rick and Mette both stressed that you need to write because you love writing--not because you want to be published. Or because you want to make money at it. If you write for those reasons, you won't find the process satisfying. If, however, you write because you love it, you'll be more motivated to keep writing (which, in turn, ironically makes you more likely to get published). I'm trying to do this. I would like to get published (wouldn't we all?), but it's true that there's a gratifying feeling to finally putting together a piece in the way that I want it to read.
Mette also said: don't quit your day job.
In our break-out session, Mette stressed the idea that every story has an inner and outer journey. That's probably old news to people who have been writing for a long time, but her comment clarified for me something that I've sensed intuitively.
When we got back together again with Rick's group, Rick and Mette took questions from the group. The questions included finding an agent (most of that was familiar to me, which made me realize how much I've learned in the last six months) and self-publishing (Mette's recommendation was: don't do it, unless you have a specific reason for doing it. Most self-published writers--but not all--self-publish because they can't get published in traditional routes, which means they have short-changed themselves, ultimately, in never learning how to take that final leap as a writer.)
I asked: how do you know if you're ready to send your manuscript out? My current hope is to send out my manuscript after I finish the revision I'm working on, but I'm not sure if that's polished enough. Mette's response? "If you're asking, you're probably delaying sending it out." (In other words, you're probably ready. She may have been under the misapprehension that the rest of my draft was as polished as the first chapter. It's not, unfortunately).
Rick's answer was my favorite, though: when in doubt, send it out!
And finally, probably the day's best advice on becoming a writer, from Rick: Read a lot and write a lot and get good at it.