Sunday, March 24, 2013

Confessions of a Conference Virgin, Part Two

Testimonial by Emily Russin (Chinook Update editor and AdCom member):

I was, to be honest, quite terrified before last year's SCBWI conference. I was a newbie, I was unpublished (still am!), and I didn't know that many people. Heck, I assumed that I'd be hugging the walls and keeping my head down, taking notes. My roommate, once of my dear friends from high school, was busy helping out behind the scenes and seemed to know everyone. Okay, not seemed. She did know everyone. I figured I'd be the Weekend Wallflower.

Did this turn out to be the case? Nope. Not even close. The things I anticipated the most––the agent/editor/fiction panels, the coveted proximity to Industry Folks, writing feedback, precious publishing and writing advice––which were the most relevant to my work-in-progress––were great, thank you, but the other categories I'd glossed over during the registration process walloped me even harder: an illustrator's keynote (the amazing Melissa Sweet, whose talk about her creative process and play-at-work mantra resulted in the fabulous and meticulously researched picture book, Balloons Over Broadway); the portfolio showcase (I must have collected three dozen incredible sample images); and the sheer concentration of bodies in the same room that housed brains passionate about my passion. This realization caught me and held me fast. And, yes, I even mingled a bit and made new contacts and reconnected with some familiar faces. (And yes, people were nice and friendly and interested in hearing what I was working on. Unfailingly so.) As far as my writing feedback from the wonderful Jenny Bent, let's just say I was so impressed by her that I kept intentionally throwing myself in her path, willing her to take me on as a client even though I was nowhere near ready. But wow, I got to talk to an agent, a real live agent! Now I follow her on Twitter....

What I was told, more often than not, was true. The nuggets of information that hit you from unlikely sources resonate and stay with you. I still hold close the idea that work can be, and should be, like play. Whether you're playing with words or images, it's a hands-on, creative process that has all sorts of possibilities and paths to take. When you're doing this work/play all alone for most of the year, it's so, so beneficial to have a place like the SCBWI-WWA conference to remind yourself you're not entirely in a vacuum. The fact that it's here, where we live, is such a gift.

So, I chatted with people next to me at the table during cocktails. I learned about others' work, and found an acquaintance/friend from Spokane to sit with at lunch the next day instead of hugging said walls. I opened myself up and found that everyone else was part of the same tribe. A committed, witty, dedicated, and warm group––and they all made room for this newbie.

Now I'm part of the advisory committee that is helping organize our upcoming conference, and I couldn't be more overwhelmed and excited. As a newbie at this side of things, I am heading into this year's event as a second-time attendee. I'm still eager to learn, to rub shoulders with the VIPS, and to let those serendipitous aha! moments take root and get me through another year of the work I love.

Won't you join me?

1 comment:

Laurie Thompson said...

Yes, I'll join you! I wouldn't miss it. And isn't it funny sometimes how the parts you think will be the least directly relevant to you can be the ones you need to hear the most? I always find that to be true, too. Great review!