No, I wasn’t out partying – well, not much. The SCBWI Winter Conference took place this past weekend, and it was educational, interesting, and enjoyable – as a conference should be.
While I benefitted from the panel discussions and networking – so good to see old friends and make new ones! – the highlight for me was Linda Sue Park’s keynote speech. (Although getting to meet Dan Yaccarino and Mo Willems was a close second. My daughter has now forgiven me for all bad mommy moments since I not only had We Are in a Book! autographed, but I got a picture, too! If I had only remembered to bring Go Go America, I’d have had mommy capital for years.)
Ms. Park’s speech was inspiring in an uncommon way: she called for us to NOT believe in ourselves. As she puts it, being told to believe in yourself when you’ve doubts or anxieties is ridiculous – if you could, you wouldn’t have the doubts or anxieties! No, she exhorts us as writers to believe in our stories, not ourselves and made the point in a funny and sweet way.
Apparently, school visits always make her nervous. She developed a script for them, telling a story about first birthday traditions as practiced in her family like most Korean families and adds a photo of the puppy she puppy-sits at the end for good measure. (According to nearly all of the children’s letters shared by successful authors, “Do you have a dog?” is the foremost concern on kids’ minds.) Focusing on telling her story – and sharing the adorable puppy photo – allows her to relax. It’s not about Linda Sue Park, the author. It’s about Korean first birthdays and fortunes and cute puppies.
Her point is that by focusing solely on the story you wish to tell, rather than your ability to tell it, you will become a better author and far less prey to self-doubt and anxiety. Sounds good to me!
How to do so?
Focus on choosing the best words and putting them in the best order to tell the story you’ve chosen. Focus on the words’ sounds, rhythm, and meaning. Focus on making your sentences clear, vivid, and memorable. Focus on combining those sentences into paragraphs and chapters that make the reader keep turning pages.
Like most good advice, it sounds simpler than it is. But it was exactly what I – and many others – needed to hear.