Fate was on my side the day I attended my first SCBWI conference. I decided I’d go to an open critique session and bear my writing soul to complete strangers. My only hope was not to make a fool of myself. When I got to the room, a lady at the door directed me to the middle-grade fiction table. I sat and eyed the spunky looking girl across from me, her own manuscript in hand. She looked comfortable, even relaxed. I wondered if I looked that way, too, but I doubted it.
The girl went first. She read from five pages of her manuscript. As the words poured out of her mouth, I died a million deaths inside. Her writing was good. More than good. Like perfect. If I had an extra-dry Sapphire martini (up) beside me, I would have chugged it right then. How was I going to compare to that? What if everyone wrote this way? WHY WAS I EVEN HERE?!
When my turn was up, I read my manuscript. I did alright, but that wasn’t what was really important to me. I wanted to learn how I could write as well as that girl. I obsessed over this idea that all writing should be as interesting. Her book stuck with me–certain phrases, sentences. I knew if I ever saw her again, I’d have to let her know her writing was amazing. I spotted her on the escalators the next day and did just that. The rest is history. The lesson? Flattery will get you everywhere.
But wait there’s more…I have two critique buddies! My second good fortune happened on my way home from an SCBWI conference in NYC. There was this lady sitting across from me at the airport. She was reading a Newbery Medal winner. I wondered if she was part of the conference, but I didn’t talk to her because I wasn’t completely sure. We boarded the plane and fate took over again. Guess who was seated across the aisle? Yup, that lady. Lucky for me, I noticed she had some conference material with her so I started a conversation. We ended up chatting so much other passengers felt compelled to tell us to shut up. Enh, who cares? Now this talented woman is my critique partner, too.
The lesson? Talk to people. You’ll never know what will happen. Meeting other writers isn’t only about finding critique partners. It’s about sharing your experiences – the joys and the sorrows – and helping each other out. It can even be about making some great friends!
For more tips about attending a conference, read my post, Top Do’s and Don’ts: Attending a Children’s Writer and Illustrator Conference.