NESCBWI 2012 Conference Recap

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I know the NESCBWI conference was two weeks ago. I know you've read all about it on other blogs. But humor me.

It took me a full week to absorb and appreciate the experience. Friday was beyond exhausting. Kids, house, travel, keeping on schedule, parking garage malfunctions, and THEN having a critique I was really nervous about just did me in. Immediately after my critique (mid-day Friday) I was quite ready to throw in the towel with my whole career. Yup. It's not that it went so horribly. It's just that I was tapped out. I wanted to hear the impossible, and instead I got mostly good advice. By the time Monday morning rolled around I was desperate for time to work on my picture book dummy - even if it meant taking a red pen to every aspect of it. (see image above)

The highlights of the conference for me, were (in no specific order):

Dan Yaccarino's workshop: I enjoyed it enough at the time. But when the dust settled in my brain, he shone a light on my picture book dummy that I think was the key to making it infinitely better - publishable, even. One major thing, a few little things, plus a whole lot of inspiration.

Portfolio Showcase: Seeing my portfolio out there for the first time in four years was awesome. It's nearly ALL published work. And I like a lot of it. It sorely needs more cute animals, but that's an improvement I'm happy to work on. Giving just a few little feedback cards to others was greatly rewarding too. A little birdie said there was some good response to it - and that's all you can hope for in these situations. To plant seeds, then walk away and hope something grows.

Writing Camp: I was so sad that my critique chewed up a good 25 minutes of this workshop. It was hands-on and fun. If I hadn't been so nervous about the upcoming critique, then dumbstruck, this would have been outstanding for me. Thank you Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan!

Friends: It was so energizing and fun to see illustrator friends. I missed last year's conference so I hadn't seen so many warm faces in nearly two years. Others I hadn't seen since the NYSCBWI conference in 2008, and still others were first encounters with people I had only talked to online. Connecting with fellow illustrators in person is beyond rewarding. And my roommate and friend Jen was a great sport for putting up with all my mommy anxieties.

Submission Strategy Consultation: This was the yin to the dummy critique's yang. Lionel Bender gave me some excellent advice. I knew in an instant that I was sitting down with a professional - and my ears were wide open. Thank you.

Maybe the best part was seeing how well my children did without me, mostly thanks to their wonderful father - next year I'm planning on going for all three days.

Working it out, keeping it a secret

Charactersketches

I've finally broken past the mental block(s) about an idea for a picture book. I had the glimmer of an idea a few years ago (ouch, yes it's been that long!) and have struggled with character, concept, style, and story - mostly in my head since. All the while I felt like I couldn't move on to other story ideas but also couldn't get to a good place with this one.

I spent a lot of quiet night time thinking things over with my newborn, then finally picked up a lined notebook some time ago on a rare early Sunday morning outing by myself and just started writing, drawing, doodling - without boundaries or structure. A few minutes a day, or not for a week at a time. I would write lists of cool names. Doodle heads and faces. Word association. First sentences. All these things mashed together without worrying about where it was going.

And before I knew it I had my characters, I had the overall story, their names, the style. I have miles to go before it's ready to share, even with my peers, but it feels good to get over one hurdle. It's been my dream to write and illustrate but my perfectionist side usually sabotages things right out of the gate.

It's easy to get discouraged looking at all the amazing titles alreadyout, beautiful portfolios, blogs full of progress and finished work. The little sketches above are just rejected starts. Rough and ugly. But it's the stuff you need to plow through to get to the other side, right? And the stuff we sometimes forget everyone goes through.