On Dream-Chasing and Mistake-Making: Nuggets of Wisdom from #NESCBWI19

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Well, another New England SCBWI Regional Conference has wrapped up, and once again, I’ve brought home impressive amounts of inspiration, enlightenment, and sleep deprivation. Remember when you used to pull all-nighters in college, and now you look back on those days wondering how you ever managed? That’s almost what a conference weekend is like; up at 7am, in bed at 1am, repeat.

In the past, I’ve shared the importance of casting wide nets, what it means to “swallow your heart,” and paying attention to the cost of scallops. This year’s conference was no less inspiring! So here, in no particular order, are a few of the highlights:

  1. Losing one of one’s senses heightens the others. We’ve all heard this, but author Patricia MacLaughlin shared her personal struggle with macular degeneration, which has caused her eyesight to deteriorate to the point where she is now nearly blind. In her estimation, blindness has made her a better writer because, in her words, “I see my childhood better now.
  2. “Value the process, not the product.” – Jane Yolen
  3. Characters are defined by their mistakes. Or, more specifically, says
    Yours Truly with Sudipta. I’m the one on the left.

    author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, they are defined by the kinds of mistakes they make. Just like us humans, we make foolish mistakes, rash decisions, and well-thought out plans that go awry. It’s important to think about this when developing your own characters.

  4. “Sometimes we chase the dream and sometimes the dream chases us.” Keynote speaker Ekua Holmes
  5. First drafts are supposed to be terrible. And often are! Saturday morning’s keynote speaker was novelist Lynda Mullaly Hunt, who spoke about honesty in one’s writing and how it doesn’t always come easy – and sometimes drastic measures are necessary to set things aright. She said that she had just completed the final version of her new novel, Shouting at the Rain when she realized she didn’t like it. What did she do? She deleted the entire manuscript, a mere two weeks before it was due! She said she needed to rewrite the entire thing, which she did – because although the deleted version was fine, “who wants a ‘fine’ book?” she said. The new, completely revamped version was what ended up getting published.
  6. “We are not made by our mistakes. We are made by what we do about them” – Lynda Mullaly Hunt (There are those darned mistakes again!)
  7. Seeing my books scroll along on the big screen never gets old. Next year: FOUR books on the ol’ PowerPoint!
  8. Strong picture book manuscripts have specific qualities that editors look for. This goes without saying, of course, but agent Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency shared a few of the things she looks for in a picture book manuscript: unique voice, fresh story/approach, solid theme, strong marketability, and emotional resonance. I’m definitely keeping these things in mind as I move forward with my projects!
  9. From L: Alex Hinrichs, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, me, Miranda Levin

    “Childhood is the pattern from which the man and woman is built.” – Ekua Holmes

  10. Discussing the virtues of rhyming text with an editor is an enlightening experience. I had the opportunity to discuss rhyme with Ripple Grove Press editor Rob Broder, who goes to great lengths on the company’s website to dissuade people from writing bad rhyming text. He sees so much bad rhyme, he tends to stay away from all rhyme completely, and of course, I – as someone who writes primarily in rhyme and sees tons of bad rhymes – couldn’t fault him.
  11. “The things we are ashamed of make for very good writing” – Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  12. There were no Muffins of Deception this year. I know not everyone places as much weight on something like this as I do, but it was a nice change of pace, nonetheless. You see, every year during the continental breakfasts, there are always a few dark muffins waiting patiently for some poor, unsuspecting soul to grab them, thinking they are chocolate; it is only once that individual sits down at their table in the ballroom and takes a bite that they realize these are not delicious chocolate but are, in fact, evil bran. This year, we experienced the freedom that comes from not worrying about such a horrible surprise.
  13. “Making books is a joyful thing. Even the hard parts. Even then.” —Jane Yolen

If I was to share every little piece of wisdom gleaned from this year’s conference, it would take me a week to get this blog post put together, so I’ll wrap it up with my friend Jane’s quote. Making books is, indeed, joyful – the hard parts, and all the parts.

Thank you for following my journey, and get ready for some big announcements in the months ahead!

From L: Poppy Parfomak, me, Colleen Murphy, Maria Marshall, Vivian Kirkfield
From Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s keynote address.


Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!

  Coming July 2, 2019!

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


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5 thoughts on “On Dream-Chasing and Mistake-Making: Nuggets of Wisdom from #NESCBWI19

  1. Whew, glad you were able to relax in a Deception-Muffin-free zone!
    Thanks for sharing these gems with us — I especially liked the bit about characters’ mistakes and “who wants a ‘fine’ book?”


  2. Pingback: Poetry Friday: “Quiet Dusk” – Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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