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A few months back, I was invited to take part in Rutgers’ One-on-One Plus, a day-long conference that pairs not-yet-published writers and illustrators with people in the children’s book industry – writers, illustrators, editors, agents.  I was there as a “mentor,” which made me feel kind of like an imposter.  It is very nearly the two year anniversary of when My So-Called Family came out, and I still don’t always feel like a real writer.  Also, you should have seen the list of participants.  Gail Carson Levine! Deborah Heiligman! Wendy Mass! Eric Luper! And so many more.  

I was honored, truly, to be in such company.  But then, when it came to the night before the conference, I realized just how early I would have to wake up on Saturday morning to take the train from Penn Station to New Brunswick, and I started to wish I’d never said yes just so I could sleep another couple of hours.  (Seriously, why am I so lazy?)  Whenever I know I have to be awake super early, I have such a hard time falling asleep.  My alarm rang at 6:00 AM and I dragged myself to the shower, thinking, Just how angry would Wendy Mass be if I called to tell her I couldn’t make it after all?

Thank goodness I didn’t make the call.  The day was INCREDIBLE!  And if they’ll have me back, I definitely want to take part in the 2011 conference.  Even if I have to wake up at 5:00 AM!  Even if they don’t have the cookie spread at lunch (I ate four). 

For me, the highlight was Deborah Heiligman’s keynote address.  I took copious notes because it was so brilliant.  Then I thought, since I never know what to blog about, and since I now have a detailed list of writing tips from a much-celebrated writer, I can just post it all here, to the benefit of those who didn’t get to see her live, and get credit for updating my blog (as if someone is out there keeping score; honestly, that’s how it feels sometimes – when I don’t update my blog for awhile, I feel like I failed at something essential). 

So without further adieu, from Deborah Heiligman’s, “You’re So Smart and You Want to be a Writer???” speech:

  1. Take Yourself Seriously.  If not, no one else will.  Deborah told the story of her mentor, a science writer (not a kid lit guy) who took her seriously and made her feel like her work was important – which of course it was! – and it made all the difference.  She said you need to give yourself permission to be a writer – carve out time and space.  Even if you have a husband or a wife or a trust fund supporting you, you need to think your work is real and important.
  2. Put a Bubble Around You.  That means no email, no Facebook, no Twitter for the duration of whatever time is your carved out writing time.  Deborah says hers is generally 8-1 when she is on deadline.  (I make myself have two writing blocks a day – 10-12 and 2-4, though right now I’m blogging during the first part instead of working on my WIP, so you can see how well I do with that.)  Deborah said these kinds of breaks are OK:  going into the kitchen for tea, or walking around your apartment.  But NO CHATTER BREAKS!  Then there was a cone around the bubble for people in your life who fulfill you.  I’m trying to figure out if that means I’m allowed to talk to Arielle and Amy on the phone during the writing blocks.  Deborah?
  3. Fight Your Fear.  You have to stretch yourself, and write the thing you’re afraid of.  It’s either that, or get an office job.
  4. Work on Your Craft.  Deborah said sometimes she gives herself writing prompts.  One of her favorites is “traffic light,” and then she sets the timer for five or ten minutes and makes herself write just to exercise those writing muscles.  (I’ve never made myself do this, but my writing mentor, Mary Gordon, used to make us do these in class all the time – she’d read us a line from a story she loved and then tell us to write and not lift the pen from the page until she said stop.  I still remember one that was, “I dreamed I sailed to Egypt with Grandma.  A very white boat.”  I meant to start out today with “traffic light,” but I forgot.  Oh well, I’m stretching muscles with this post, right?  Tomorrow I’ll do traffic light.)
  5. Pay Attention When You Have Ideas.  That’s something Deborah got from Lucy Frank.  Also, just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you get to stop paying attention.  That was a line from Gail Carson Levine.  Deborah said, “Trust your gut, and keep looking.”
  6. Luck Comes to the Prepared Mind.  Deborah told this story about how she wrote an entire picture book in the shower.  How did she manage that?, you may ask.  She didn’t write it in the condensation on the shower door; she has a waterproof pad and pen in the shower!  Because great ideas come at unpredictable – and sometimes inconvenient – times, and you need to be ready for them.  So she always has paper with her.  And here is when Deborah became just like Oprah.  She motioned to a couple people in the audience who proceeded to give out waterproof pads to everyone in attendance!  For those who weren’t at Rutgers on Saturday, it is an All-Weather Universal pad from Forestry Suppliers, Inc.  www.forestry-suppliers.com. 

So there you go.  I know my notes on this are not doing justice to how wonderful and meaningful and funny and inspiring Deb’s speech was.  You can read more from her on her blog, including the outtakes of the speech, because the keynote was at the end of the day and the conference was running late, so she had to cut it down a bit and so the rest of us missed out on things she would’ve said.  (Though I had the good fortune of sitting next to her on the train so she filled me in – poor Deb, she probably wanted to relax after a long day, and there I was bugging her for more.) 

There was also a panel that talked about social media, but I’ve already spent a lot of time on this post and really need to get back to my new book.  Suffice it to say, it was an ode to Twitter, which I love and I resolve to get better at.  Also you should follow these three:  Katie Davis, Alvina Ling and Deborah Sloan.  (And please follow me, too.)    

All right, that’s enough for now.  I hope I get extra credit from the blog gods for this post.   

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
deborah18
Oct. 18th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you and some answers and additions
Courtney, thank you for comparing me to Oprah.I think you just mean about the free gifts, but since I always wanted to be Oprah, I'm going to just think you mean about everything.

1.Only YOU know if talking to your two BFFs takes you out of your writing space or keeps you firmly anchored in it. And I think maybe it's different on different days.

2.Pencil is fine on waterproof notebook. Good researching on where to find it, by the way!

3.Ten or FIFTEEN minutes on the writing prompt, girl. But, honestly, you are doing fine without it.

4.I came home and whined. And wined. And then we watched a really sad movie, The Last Station.

5.It was lovely meeting you!

6. CLEARLY I am not in my bubble today.
courtneywrites
Oct. 18th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you and some answers and additions
Deb, in my mind you exceed Oprah.

Was the sad movie a good sad movie? Good sad movies are my favorite movies in the entire world. I stand by my love of "Terms of Endearment" and "Evening." I have them both on DVD if you ever want to borrow. Also I love "Joe Versus the Volcano," but when I tell people that, they tend to question my movie taste.

I don't know where my bubble is today! I think I'm going to have to resort to an old method: Write 1000 words, earn a Crumbs cupcake.
deborah18
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you and some answers and additions
The Last Station. About Tolstoy and his wife. It was very sad. And good. I guess. Very good. But so sad. Not my idea of how a marriage should end...!

How weird is it that I just ran into D. while she was talking to you?

SMALL WORLD!!
courtneywrites
Oct. 18th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you and some answers and additions
I know! I think WE conjured YOU, by the way -- we were talking about you, and then you appeared! xoC
deborah18
Oct. 18th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you and some answers and additions
I think you're right. You are the conjurer.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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