Information overload

The SCBWI Carolinas conference ended yesterday. I learned so much, my brain is overloaded. 

So in an attempt to decompress the information, I'll go over some of the most useful stuff. Since my primary purpose for attending was to learn more about the illustration business, I'll start with that.

-I had a portfolio critique with Laurent Linn. He helped me spot weaknesses in my pictures and gave me some tips to make my portfolio stronger. He also told me that my cartoony, animation-like style was best suited for mass market, or commercial books, not trade books. Then he saw my slow nod and explained the difference between the two.

-Laurent also filled me in on what I need to do as far as sending queries to have my art considered by picture book publishers. Querying for illustrations is easy (compared to querying for novels), though getting picked to illustrate something requires a bit of luck.

-Later I attended a session with Elizabeth Dulemba. She showed us how she makes picture book dummies, and shared some really cool tips and tricks. She also told us how to find our personal color palette. I didn't realize I had one till then, but I totally do. Now that I know what it is, I can use it to further define my style. 

I also attended some enlightening writing sessions. My favorites were probably the two with Alan Gratz. He helped me realize I need more structure. When I was a reporter, I outlined every article. I knew what I wanted the beginning, middle and end to be. I did this as a necessity. If I just tried to start writing and "find the story," I would have never hit my deadlines. For some reason, I didn't bring the outlining discipline into my novel writing. Before, I would have a rough idea that I liked, and I then I would try to find the story while writing it. That resulted in two shelved novels--one at 85 pages, another at 50. 

This was a big "Duh!" moment for me. Some people can find the story through writing, but I'm not one of them. I am directionally challenged, I need a road map. Now I know how to make one--by combining a bit of what Alan showed us, with the things I did back at the newspaper.

By the end of the conference, I was super excited...about too many things. I have this new novel that I started mapping out a few weeks ago and I'm more excited about this story than anything I've ever created before. It's a perfect fit for me and I think it's an interesting story. I'm also excited about my illustration work. Now I know where to go, what to target, and how to get into the industry. I have a fantastic picture book idea that is just waiting to be explored. 

That's where my critique group comes in. They were all the conference too. They've seen me bounce between ideas, and one of them--Mrs. Phelps, I'm looking at you--stopped me mid-conversation and said, "Don't think, just answer. What are you most excited about right now? What do you really want to finish?"

I answered with the name of my new novel. To that she replied, "Then write it!" I proceeded to make excuses, but she wasn't having it. Somehow we eventually found our way to the betting table (which, as it turns out, is very close to the bar). I am now binded by a clink of glasses. I have to finish the first draft of my novel by January 1, or I owe her a dinner--lobster and martinis. 

This is a tiny bit terrifying to me. I have to finish a book in three months! And it's not even one of my half-finished shelved novels, this one is brand new! I freaked out for a little bit, and then got some encouraging words from my other group members. 

One of them pointed out that I just ran another half marathon three weeks ago. What keeps me going? What makes me get up in the mornings to run in the southern heat? Why do I run them year after year? And more importantly, why can I do that, but not write a freaking book? I'm the most un-athletic, un-competitive person in the world, and yet I've run four half marathons in the last two years. I have two writing related degrees, and my job consists of about 80 percent writing. This should be easy!

Turns out, if you have the right tools, the right encouragement, and the right motivation, it is easy. Okay, that's a big fat lie, it's not easy at's easier than I was making it out to be. As one of my critique members pointed out (she's also bound by the "finish by January" bet), I need to "Just DO IT!"

I spent most of my time on Sunday, after the conference, outlining my new novel. I now have a clear beginning, middle and end. Now I just need to flesh out the outline and round out my character profiles and my road map will be complete. Then it's a mad dash to finish my first draft by January 1.

After that? I'll celebrate, then revise...and maybe work on my illustration stuff too. 

Anyways, it was an awesome weekend. I didn't do much networking, but that's not what I went for. This conference was about information gathering, and having a great time with my critique group. Next year, I'll throw down on the editors  and agents that come. I'll be all like, "Yo, check out my finished book!" and they'll be like, "Whoa. I want to get that in every book store in the world." And then I'll be like, "Cool."