Close to a year ago, I wrote to Jane Yolen to ask her advice on a book I thought was finished. What did she say? "Join SCBWI." I took her counsel with skepticism and reticence (Didn't she help form that group?) Fourteen months later, I see her point. I don't think I could have paid for better advice.
The first SCBWI function I attended was a grammar workshop, a back to the basics review of how to write a sentence. Next I attended a critique group. For me, this was where the rubber met the road. Unconvincing silence greeted the first reading of my novel excerpt. The comments I received showed me where to improve and demonstrated how writing is not always a one person show.
The annual conference brought me face to face with the world of editors, agents, contracts, query letters, and the reality of reject letters, or worse - non-responses. It can be a daunting world, but the conference helped it to be a more approachable one for me.
What would I label as "the most important thing" I've learned this past year? I read a quote not so long ago in The Writer that could be a summary of it, "There is a fine line between good writing and excellent writing." The truth of that statement encouraged me. After all, excellence can't be too far away if it's a 'fine' line. Then again, crossing fine lines is usually difficult. I also read somewhere this year that, "Anyone can write, but authors know how to rewrite." That comes close to being the most important thing as well. One of our own members gave me an important lesson when they remarked about a piece I'd written, "It ain't precious." I find that is a good thing to always keep in mind while writing.
Before I joined SCBWI, I admit I was in the dark about tense, point of view, "show-don't-tell," and grammar in general. The support of the critique sessions, the magazine articles, the peer-to-peer discussions, and the workshops have been what I have needed to start to excel in those areas.
It has been a long, enriching year, a sort of coming of age experience for my own coming of age novel. The novel may never cross that 'fine line' to excellence, but SCBWI will help it get closer.
There have been many lessons learned this year. Perhaps the most important ones for me have been the internal ones. They say it takes an average of ten years to publish your first novel. If each year is like this one, I look forward to the next nine.
(Printed in the Nov/Dec 2007 edition of "SCBWIs of TEXAS," the NC/NE Texas Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)