Forty Years of SCBWI Wisdom


I recently attended a Florida SCBWI conference in Miami, and holy cannoli, it was totally awesome. There were nuggets a-plenty to glean, but the coolest presentation, imo, was the one given by Lin Oliver, co-founder of the SCBWI. In her talk, Lin reviewed keynote presentations from the past 40 years and picked out recurring themes–writing truths that never seem to go out of style. Here are the common threads she found, and my summary of what she had to say on each:

1. Take lots of showers. The inspiration for writing is in the subconscious and you can’t just power through that. The muse doesn’t want to be forced; she wants to be set free. This is why so many of our good ideas come to us in the shower, or while washing dishes, or driving the kids to school. So put down the horsewhip and relax. Release yourself from the job of writing and open yourself up to the inspiration.
2. Read deeply. Develop your own personal canon of literature that’s meaningful to you, that inspires you, and revisit the titles often.
3. Keep a journal. As artists, we’re interesting because we have many thoughts. Write them down, then see where they take you.
4. Follow your weirdness. Ask big questions. Embrace your different-ness.
5. Do the work. Enough said.
6. Write in scenes. Characters need to move forward. Every scene must move the story forward
7. Frustrate your main character. We did a whole post on this, so I’ll just leave the link.
8. Build your vocabulary. This doesn’t mean more words that are bigger. The idea is to use few words that are the right words.
9. Eavesdrop. We are writers of dialogue. Dialogue is the oxygen of the story, and it’s all about ear. The most important skill of a writer is listening.
10. Read everything aloud. Reading aloud develops your writer’s ear like listening to music develops your musical ear.
11. Shorten it up. No explanation needed.
12. Don’t ever talk down. Avoid sentimentality, reminiscence, and empty emotion.
13. Do not preach. Every writer has virtues and themes that are important to them, but they don’t need to be soapboxed. Allow them to come through in the writing. Explore your own values through your writing. Have influence, not an agenda.
14. Give the children the power. It’s not a children’s book if the children don’t solve the problem.
15. Join the tribe. Children’s writers have optimism for the future, a belief in the capability of young people, and a lot of love in our hearts. Join up, through critique groups, conferences, author events, promoting each others’ books, etc.

A lot of these, we’ve heard before, yet so much of it still rings true for me. And though most of this is nothing new, there are still a bunch that I personally need to work on. #9, for instance. What about you? Is there anything on this list that jumped out at you?


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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[…] blogged a few weeks ago about Lin Oliver’s Forty Years of SCBWI Wisdom presentation at the Florida conference. I’ve been pondering some of her points, and one of […]

Janet Smart
8 years ago

Lots of great advice here! I think I will run off this list. Another thing is to keep writing. I have improved immensely since I started writing. I showed my neighbor my synopsis of my MG manuscript last night while we were walking, she said “You know just by reading this synopsis, I can see how your writing has improved so much from when you started.” She really made me feel good. Some people don’t like to change what they have written, which I think is wrong. I wrote this MG quite a few years ago, if I hadn’t came back and made changes it wouldn’t have had a chance at getting published, now I think it does.

Sher A. Hart
8 years ago

Thanks for posting this. I couldn’t afford to go clear down to Miami. I wish they would hold this mid-state or at least alternate every other year between Tallahassee or even Gainesville and the south. Now I feel like I got a lot out of conference anyway. Thanks again!

Leslie Rose
8 years ago

If I ever got a tattoo, I think it would be this list. I have my eye on going to the Florida SCBWI next year. I’ve heard such great things about it.

Lisa Gail Green
8 years ago

Sounds very cool! And each tip was great. Sometimes it isn’t that you haven’t heard it, it’s that you didn’t think of it that way. Or you needed a reminder. 😀

8 years ago

Excellent advice. Especially the showers – many times my writing blockages are removed by taking a shower – something about the ions in the air I guess. Maybe it’s just that there is little to distract one in a shower.

Your thesaurus is incredible and I refer many to it when they are stuck on a point.

Thanks for this wonderful blog.

Kitty's Blogspace
8 years ago

Very informative and Inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

I’m so glad these tips are resonating with everyone. Lin was a great presenter and had a lot of wisdom to pass on. It was a total thrill to hear her speak.

Mirka Breen
8 years ago

Suggestion No.1 will stay with me. Cleanliness is a virtue and a bonus!

Christina Lee
8 years ago

Oh my goodness, this is AWESOME!! And so is Lin (plus hilariously funny, too). Thanks for this!

Cherie Colyer
8 years ago

Great list! Thanks for sharing.

8 years ago

What a great list! Thank you for sharing it.

Ghenet Myrthil
8 years ago

Thanks for sharing! SCBWI is such an incredible organization. 🙂

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

Join the tribe, that one jumps out at me as I’m learning to do just that.
Supporting other writers and having them support me back is an awesome day to day activity.

8 years ago

I may have to print this list out and frame it for my wall. It’s all excellent advice, thank you. As for the one which stuck out the most for me–it’s the same one you and several other comments have mentioned: eavesdropping! I can describe until my hand falls off, but dialogue? I really struggle with dialogue–eavesdropping would definitely help there!

Stacy Green
8 years ago

What a great list. Yes, some of them we’ve heard but others are new (at least to me). Thanks for sharing!

Kimberly Sabatini
8 years ago

I adore Lin! This is a fantastic post!!!! Thanks for sharing.

Ava Jae
8 years ago

These tips are great. I have to agree that eavesdropping is a big help, especially when you’re writing in a POV that doesn’t match your age/gender group.

Matthew MacNish
8 years ago

Number 4 pretty much sums up my whole life. The rest of this is beyond awesome, too.

Gwynneth White
8 years ago

I liked the one about joining the tribe. I sometimes forget that I am supposed to optimistic about the future – like a child. Good lesson there. I also like insight into vocabulary. Very good advice.

Natalie Aguirre
8 years ago

Great tips. Thanks for sharing them all. I need to eavesdrop, especially on teens more. Awesome you got to go to the conference.

Rosemary Gemmell
8 years ago

Fantastic list, thank you. And thanks for all those weather posts!

8 years ago

“Take lots of showers” That’s pretty funny, but it’s true. I’m sometimes amazed at the revelations I’ve had in those non-writery moments when my mind can sort of roam around and poke.