February 26, 2014

The SCBWI Conference Day 3

The Gala Dinner and Meet & Greet last evening were very pleasant.  I finally found my Regional Advisor and met some others from Minneapolis/St. Paul area, including a man who had been in my second critique group.  He read the opening of his wonderful Middle Grade novel he’s working on based on a painting he had seen called Vegetarian Vampires.

I met a woman who lives not far from this hotel and has been working for several years on her book for Middle Graders about the coral reefs with a cast of intriguing and hilariously fishy characters.  I ran into several women who I had met in the critique circles.  One of them, Doris, had such a great story twist on Goldilocks that I could easily see her the next Mo Willems.  I have a collection of business cards now in my briefcase.  New friends.

This morning I find a platter of GF bagels on the Bagel table and the Food and Beverage Manager is standing nearby.  I smile at him.  In his thick New York accent he says, “I thought of you this morning and even though I was told to only bring them out if asked for, I thought I’d put out this tray anyway.”  Just then a young woman comes up and sees the tray with its little sign and says, “Oh!  Oh I’m so excited!  I’ve been having to go out every morning to find my own food!”  The Manager and I smile at each other.

The first speaker is author Kate Messner on The Spectacular Power of Failure.  This has been the theme of my life the past several years: how to live with, release, or generally not be undone by the fear of failing. Actually, it might be more accurate to say it has been the theme of my life.  Like, forever my life.  And most of my life I failed spectacularly at overcoming my fear of failing because I was trying to overcome it.  You can’t overcome, i.e. win out over Fear.  If you try and land a punch it’ll beat the snot out of you.  If you try and run away, it chases you down and eats you up alive.  I learned some years back that the only way to not be controlled by it was to do the lion and the lamb thing and lay down and take a nap on it’s belly.  Except I was too scared to shut my eyes.

Learning to deal with the Fear of Failure that has controlled nearly every aspect of my life has been a long pilgrimage for me.  I guess I’m not surprised to meet up with it again here at the Conference.  Kate obviously said a lot of noteworthy things since I have five pages of notes from her address.  But a few jump out at me asking for stars and circles.

Be brave.  It’s okay to be afraid.  If you weren’t nervous about what you are attempting, it wouldn’t be worth doing.  You can’t have brave without scared.

As artists we set goals, and then we move the bar on ourselves…’I will write 10 minutes a day…finish the book by…get an agent…get published…win an award…if I could just.’  There is no end.  When we keep moving the bar, we cheat ourselves out of the pleasure of small successes.  Notice those small successes!  Celebrate them!

Athletes and engineers and children “fail” a lot and accept that as part of the process.  The only way to achieve what they’re trying to do is to try, fail, adjust, learn, keep going, do it again…over and over until they get it right.  We as artists need to have the same attitude.

Never, never give up.

Nikki Grimes, author of middle grade fiction written in verse is our final speaker of the day.  She speaks so beautifully, it is difficult to believe that once she was in the audience—new, hopeful, frustrated, scared.  She tells her story and she advocates for us to be patient with ourselves and our learning process.  Like anything beautiful, we have to be given time to grow, time to ripen, time to become—and so does our art.


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