Monday, September 12, 2011

SCBWI Eastern PA Critique Fest

Hi, blog friends. I've been unable to blog for quite some time due to the passing of my father-in-law. Anyone who has lost a close family member knows how complicated and draining death is. I am glad to be on the other side and jumping back into my normal routines.


I'd like to share an extraordinary experience I had this past Saturday. The Eastern PA chapter of the SCBWI held a critique fest in Lancaster, and I was lucky enough to moderate one of the YA critique tables (thanks, Marilyn Hershey!). My agent was on the critique staff for the event, so I was fortunate enough to be invited to have breakfast and lunch with the staff. It was a surreal moment to be eating stuffed baked potatoes with the likes of Chris Richman, Jenny Bent, Pat Easton, Sandy Asher, Wendy Schmalz, Mary Kate Castellani and of course Sarah LaPolla.

But the reason I'm blogging about the event is not to name drop (even though it was fun to type those heavy hitter names out ; ) it's to share a few key things I took away from my experience moderating the crit group. After the critiques ended - which went quite well (the eight writers at the table were intelligent, kind, witty, helpful and interesting) we all just sat around and talked. As I reflected, three consistent critique points rose to the top, and I thought it would be helpful to share - especially if anyone out there is in the revising cave at the moment.

1. Pacing. Do you start your novel at the "just right moment" or do you try and tell us too much before that "just right moment" comes? Believe me, it isn't easy to discern where that moment is - that's why critiques are so crucial to subject yourself to before you query. And not critiques from your family, friends, children or students - believe me - I went that route, and while the praise felt awesome, it did nothing to improve my writing. Join a writer's group or critique group. Allow your work to be shredded by someone who knows how to shred it.

2. If you write YA then you must read YA. Tons and tons and tons of it. Same goes for whatever it is that you write - read your genre and read a lot of it. It will save you rejections in the long run. It will help to ensure that you're book is truly marketable.

3. Critique reaction. You can't get defensive. It's counterproductive. Let me say this - every writer at my table handled their critique with grace and wisdom. No one got their back up. Each writer listened intently and took notes on what the other seven writers, and myself, said. Kudos to Eastern PA SCBWI for explaining the critique rules beforehand, in which the writer had to remove themselves from the circle and not engage anyone critiquing - and we, the critiquers, couldn't engage the writer as well. We spoke as if the writer wasn't there. It was so effective, and I hope the writers at my table felt the same way.

If you write for children I highly advise joining SCBWI and attending local, regional and national events. Good things happen at these conferences. Professional acquaintances and friends are made - invaluable knowledge on our craft of writing is gained - and even requests happen. No matter what you write there is a professional organization to join. Join it. There is nothing like sitting around a table with other human beings that truly understand your craft and talking shop.

Side notes:
1. Check back Wednesday for five new Campaigner Spotlights.
2. THANK YOU to everyone who voted for my blog in the CBS Philly's Most Valuable Blog Challenge. I truly appreciate you taking the time to vote.