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?