Tuesday, June 2, 2015

TED Talk Tuesday: Tavi Gevinson is Still Figuring it Out

I'm dedication this blog post to the teens who make up our Teen Think Tank at the Writers' Loft. They are amazing girls who are definitely still figuring it out, but so unique, imaginative, and powerful in their own right!

This TED Talk grabs onto the portrayal of women and girls in pop-culture (mostly movies and TV) and looks at how often even the strongest female roles are one-dimensional. A cautionary tale for anyone writing about women/girls in their novels.

It's like Tavi jumped inside my head and ferreted out my beef with the Spice Girls. (Oh, does that date me?)

Check it out:


Can't see the TED Talk? Click through here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6osiBvQ-RRg

We all want to write multi-dimensional characters, whether female or not. Tavi says it's all about the flaws, and I agree.

And it's something we're all still figuring out--what makes a female character strong? Recently there's been an insurgent of kick-ass teens and women in books--are they complete, well-rounded characters, or one-dimensional super women?

Tavi is certainly figuring some of this stuff out. Check out her online magazine, Rookie.

I definitely think that the strong girl debate is a current one, but my favorite part of this TED Talk is her general attitude toward, well, everything. She's still figuring it out. It's okay to mess up when you are still figuring things out. Things aren't set in stone, not even what feminism means. It's a conversation. A fluid topic. Everything is.

I love it when she said she could get away with anything if she said she's still figuring it out. That's a great life mindset to have!

Let's adopt Tavi's mindset and get away with everything!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Little Secret, a Little #NESCBWI16, and a Little #TEDTalk: Megan Washington and Why I Live in Mortal Dread of Public Speaking

I have a secret.

It's not a big secret--and it's probably a secret many of you share with me.

I hate public speaking. Well, more accurately, I hate being in any sort of spotlight. I don't want any eyes on me. Not even on my birthday. :)

People sometimes say that you need to do the things that you fear most. I don't agree with this. I'm not planning on jumping out of any airplanes just because I fear it. But I do think that you have to do the thing that you fear most if it stands between you and your life successes.

Don't let your fears hold you back.

There's a lot to fear in the writing profession. Rejection. Having your innermost thoughts placed on display in your works. Being judged or criticized. Being in the spotlight, either online or at speaking events. I'm sure there are fears I'm forgetting.

This year, for the #nescbwi16 conference, I've decided to set the theme as The Power of (RE) INVENTION.

Reinvention can encapsulate a lot of ideas, all worthy. About changing ourselves so we can be successful.

But most importantly, I think we need to reinvent ourselves around our fears.

I spent some time up at the podium at #nescbwi15. How did I workaround my fear of standing in the spotlight? Well, I told myself that nobody really came to see me (totally true!), but I also reminded myself of the reason I was up there. My purpose was always to impart some information to the group.

I like to help people. I like to be useful. So I focused on everyone else and their needs, and not on my fear. For the most part that worked. I'm not saying I'm going to be the world's greatest public speaker, but if I can convey information to people in a way it can be heard, then I'm doing my job.

See how I'm white-knuckling that podium?! :) Thanks to Pam Vaughan who took conference photos!

I hope that even if public speaking is your fear, that you put that aside and submit a workshop proposal for the 2016 conference. Workshops are the backbone of our conference, and we recently put out the call:

The Call for Workshop Proposals: NESCBWI 2016 Spring Conference
The Power of (RE) INVENTION
April 29th through May 1st, 2016, in Springfield, MA.

Being successful as a writer or illustrator means changing what doesn’t work, and that means reinvention.

That’s why our theme this year is The Power of (RE) INVENTION.

We want to empower our conference attendees to reinvent their brand, their work, or their tools, and leave the conference ready to take the next step in their kidlit career.

We’re looking for workshops that span the gamut from solid craft workshops to workshops that delve into a re-inventive aspect of publishing, writing, or illustrating. For instance, how to reinvent a career by writing in new genres, using inventive technology to pull in reluctant readers, or reinventing brand to start up a stalled career. Be creative and inspire us with your workshop proposals!



We receive hundreds of proposals each year. There are always exceptions, but the majority of workshops we accept are from New England SCBWI members who submit as a single presenter and give more than one workshop at the conference. Feel free to submit three or four workshops so we have choices.

We start building our supportive community now, and we give preference to presenters who have been respectful, honest, and thoughtful to the needs of our conference goers in the past. We also love to bring in some new authors, agents, editors, art directors, and workshop presenters. 


The job of faculty at the conference is to impart their expertise in a way that attendees can hear it.

Submissions open for SCBWI PAL members on June 1, 2015.
Submissions open for everyone on July 1, 2015.
Submissions close at midnight on August 1, 2015.

We will let people know the status of their submission by the end of October, 2015.

Before you start the submission process, please have the following information handy:

1. Your bio. We post bios online with our conference information. Your bio must be under 125 words, or we will trim.

2. A great title and workshop description. These will also be posted online at our registration website. This description must be under 250 words and must convey everything an attendee would need to know to chose your workshop.
3. Learning outcomes—three or more concrete lessons or tangible tools that attendees can gain from your workshop.
4. Name and email of your co-presenter, if you have one.
5. Outline or longer description of your workshop so we have a clear view of what you will be discussing.

Please write and edit this information ahead of time, then copy and paste the answers in our online form so the information is free of typos and mistakes. We pull accepted workshop proposal information from this form and post it online in our registration website.


If you are an agent, editor, or art director who would like to attend our conference, please sign up through the workshop proposal form as well.

See our FAQ through here.

Questions? Please email nescbwi16(at)gmail(dot)com.

Again, I hope that even if public speaking is your fear, you will consider imparting your expertise to the #nescbwi16 crowd, and submit a workshop. Don't let fear stand in the way of your success!

And, here's the promised #TEDTalk, with Megan Washington and Why I Live in Mortal Dread of Public Speaking. I love it when she says, "it's impossible to stutter when you sing." What an amazing workaround she found, which led to her life's work!



Oh, yeah, we're wearing the same outfit. :) Isn't she great?! So, what's your fear? What's your workaround? Can't see the #TEDTalk? Click here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#NESCBWI15 Makes Me Get Personal and TED Talk Tuesday: Brené Brown with The Power of Vulnerability

It's no secret that I've spent a good deal of the past year helping to plan and run the #NESCBWI 2015 conference. And it's no secret that I'm doing it again in 2016. (Hopefully it's no secret that I LOVE doing it!)

Running a conference is a funny thing. I feel directly responsible for the workshops we pick, the ones we reject, the people we invite, and the quality of the programming.

My co-chair Natasha and I with volunteer coordinator Hayley Barrett and ARA Stacy Mozer 
at #nescbwi15 orientation.

I feel responsible for how the conference impacts each conference goer. I want everyone to walk away with insight to their projects. I want everyone to walk away with more connections than they started with. I want everyone to walk away inspired to dive into the next bit of work for their creative career.

Friends Wendy McDonald and Julia Young (Julia is designing our logo for #nescbwi16)


And I can try my hardest to create the best hodge-podge of workshops and speakers I can mash together in one weekend. But what matters just as much (or more) (as Brené Brown will tell us below in her #TEDtalk) is where the conference goer is coming from.

Are they coming from a place of vulnerability?

Let me get personal for a moment. (Gasp.)

One of my favorite people to get personal with, my friend and mentor, Erica Orloff.

When I go to conferences, I always carve out some time to sit across the table with an industry professional.

The first time I did this, years ago, I squirmed while an agent explained what wasn't working in my first pages (made worse by the fact that I'd already revised them, but didn't mention that because I felt it would disrespect the time the agent took on the critique). The agent's truth hurt because I wasn't sure that I had fully addressed the issues in my revision, and I was left with the question: was I good enough to take the manuscript where it needed to go?

I heard the truth from that critique. Took it home with me, mourned my am-I-good-enough question for three days (my magic time frame) and then set out to do the work.

Several years, agent critiques, and manuscripts later, a particular agent didn't connect AT ALL with my newest premise, but she didn't really have any solid advice on what to change in my query letter. She just wasn't a fan of what I was selling. It was an important lesson of sometimes it's not me, sometimes it's the agent's taste.

By now in my career, when I meet with an agent, my query generally gets a request for a full. I know how to write a compelling query, and I want to see if I connect with the agent, and if they connect with me.

This year at #nescbwi15, I had the opportunity to sit with an agent I'd never met before.

I swept into the critique room for the second time of the day, (earlier I had stocked the room with chocolates and checked if the agents and editors needed anything) sat down across from the agent, and watched as she read my query. She laughed, said the query was funny, and underlined one line she thought I could change. Good feedback.

Then she started to talk about my manuscript. It wasn't in front of us--she extrapolated from the query. She started asking me to change things in the manuscript--she didn't like the setting and didn't like one of the plot threads. Okay, that's totally great information--she wasn't connecting with the content of the manuscript. That's good to know. This wouldn't be a project for her.

But I got defensive at this point--to be honest, it irks me when agents pick apart a manuscript that isn't in front of them. Because when they do that to someone who is just starting out, sometimes writers go home and change those aspects. Just because one agent doesn't like books with a bullying thread, or books set in space. I want critiquers to stick to what is in front of them. If a plot thread is confusing in the query letter, say that. Don't say that space isn't a compelling setting. (Yeah, and defensive is never a good place for me! Don't go there, Heather, don't! But I did. Le Sigh.)

(Also, the one exception to this rule is if an agent doesn't think they can sell something because of the type of ms. I'll always be really thankful to the agent who told me he couldn't sell anything remotely dystopian.)

She asked if I had critique partners, and I got flustered--I run a writing community and have many, many critique partners. Some of whom are published many times over. She was asking me basic questions that would have fit ten years ago, when I was starting out. (Look at me, all defensive again.)

I mention all this to you, because I wasn't expecting the critique to become a question of whether I was good enough. And here it was again. Was I good enough?

I admitted to the agent that I was still revising the book--that because I was running the conference, I had put it aside for a few months.

I very truthfully said I wasn't sure it was working as it was. I was honest and vulnerable. I didn't get to say the next words--that I have full faith in my ability to shore up the issues--make the structure work, develop some secondary characters more fully, and I didn't get a chance to tell her about the strengths in the manuscript--it's super funny and the voice rocks! That I have full faith in myself and in the manuscript.

She was quick to use my vulnerability as a springboard.

She told me that my bio makes me un-agentable. That there is no way that I have time to do my stories justice if I am such a "giver." That I need to stop being myself if I want to be successful as a writer.

That running a writing community, bringing in experts to talk on writing craft, coaching other writers on their careers, running the conference, talking with Newbery winners and industry professionals,  all this was detracting from my pursuing a writing career. Actually, it was pretty clear that she was saying that all this made my writing career impossible.

Which is ironic. Because it wasn't until I started the writing community and starting doing professional things within the kidlit community at large that I started to feel worthy of writing the books I was trying to write. I felt confident about my writing at the same time that I decided to support others in a meaningful way.

Why am I telling you this? Because getting critiqued is universal in writing. Because getting rejected is universal too. Because we need to be vulnerable and come to our writing from a place of belief. The belief that we are worthy of the book we are writing and that if something isn't working in it, we will figure it out.

Because, as Jo Knowles says, we ask ourselves if our story is true yet. If it isn't, we'll work at it. Until it is true.

We also need to ask what is true of critiques we receive. True for the story and true for ourselves. We need to know the truth so we can make our work (and ourselves) stronger.

Because of this critique, I took a good look at my commitments and pledged that I wouldn't ever lose the threads of of my own writing--because I don't believe that helping others keeps me from helping myself.

My #nescbwi16 co-chair, Josh Funk and I leaving to start planning for next year!

If my experience about strength from vulnerability wasn't universal enough, here's Brené Brown's compelling research and personal experience with the Power of Vulnerability. It's amazing!


Can't see the Ted Talk? Click here.

Do you have critique or rejection stories? How do you discover what is true about the critiques? Do you come to critiques from the power of vulnerability?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TED Talk Tuesday: Mac Barnett and Why a Good Book is a Secret Door

I dare you to watch Mac Barnett's TED Talk and not 1. Laugh and 2. Be Inspired. :)

I double-dog-dare you, in fact.

I love Mac's reverse take on the through the wardrobe--how he wants to bring fiction alive, into real life. And I LOVE how he (and Dave Eggers with 826 Valencia) achieve this.

Wait until you meet Riley and her magic melon. And the pirate supply store. And Nico with his pet whale Randolph.

Can't see the @TEDtalks? Click here.
I'm going to call it wonder. It's what Coleridge called the willing suspension of disbelief or poetic faith, for those moments where a story, no matter how strange, has some semblance of the truth, and then you're able to believe it. It's not just kids who can get there. Adults can too, and we get there when we read.--Mac Barnett
Wonder. Yup, that's it.

So, this is a TED Talk for anyone who has found the TARDIS in real life (do make sure to go inside), or felt like they were inside the Harry Potter world when traveling to London.

Adults CAN get there. And we can take people there through our writing.

Our house loves BATTLE BUNNY and all the awesome Meta-ness that @MacBarnett creates. I hope you check out some of his books for even further inspiration!

Oh, and there is an 826 Boston, so if you are local, consider tutoring.

So, what inspires you? What books lead you through the wardrobe door and come to life for you? What characters live on in your mind long after you close the book?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

TED Talk Tuesday: Amanda Palmer and The Art of Asking

A friend of mine who needs a couple of beta readers started talking to me about where she's planning on finding them--online communities of writers who are strangers. She hasn't interacted with them yet.

She's a supportive member of a vibrant local writing community, so I asked her why she wasn't looking for a critique within that community--she's already built respectful and true connections there.

She said that people are busy, and she didn't want to ask because she didn't want to bother anyone.

I told her that people would say no if they couldn't, and that I hoped that she would seek a reader within our community.

But it's so much more than that. Asking for something is often times a value exchange. For both parties. One person (hopefully) gets a thoughtful critique. The other gets to see their own mistakes in someone else's. Or see the things they do well. My writing grows so much when I critique others. Or the critiquer might get a future favor. Or karma for paying it forward. Because someone sometime gave them a critique. Whatever is exchanged, there is value on both sides of the equation.

And that is what Amanda Palmer says in her TED Talk: The Art of Asking. Value on both sides of the equation. I love the way she thinks about and interacts with her fans, her art.

And she makes a poetic case for self-publishing, I think. :) She's using a new model to get her art to her fans. Speaking of self-publishers, here's a few you will meet at the #nescbwi15 conference: our chair, Natasha Sass (writing under a pen name Ansha Kotyk) and Laura Pauling, who is presenting several workshops! (If you are planning on coming to #nescbwi15 and haven't registered, there are only a few spots until we sell out, so register soon!)



@AmandaPalmer writes more about this in her book by the same title, check it out here: http://amandapalmer.net/

What do you think? Has she taken the shame piece out of asking? Do you draw parallels between what she is doing with music and what you are doing with writing?