Five years ago, I was the conference attendee standing alone in the corner rifling through my folder, feeling like an imposter. I was miserably sick, hacking up a lung, and sitting in on the tail end of the SCBWI New York conference because I had registered late. I wasn’t even sure what SCBWI stood for. I don’t remember who spoke or what they said that Sunday in the Hyatt Ballroom. I only remember my fingers twitching. I couldn’t wait to get home to finish the novel I’d been messing around with for ten years.
I needed to write.
The next year I was the conference attendee who was sure the agent at my intensive table would love my first five hundred words and sign me immediately. It turned out she scolded me for being thirty words over the limit and I left feeling confused. What just happened? Did my first two pages suck? But the workshops empowered me. I learned about the craft of writing. I learned to follow guidelines (thank you scolding agent) and that my “finished” novel was about twelve drafts away from being finished. The keynotes inspired me and energized me. My fingers started to twitch. I left the conference with a brand new book idea.
I needed to write.
The year after that, I was the conference attendee excited to introduce my friend-turned writing partner to the SCBWI universe. We stood in the corner together, sharing information, bursting with ideas. We bonded over the intense experience of reading our first 500 words to strangers. I read the beginning of my second novel. The feedback made me question if I would ever not suck. But the workshops gave me valuable information and the keynotes lifted me to finger twitching levels, and my friend and I couldn’t wait to get home.
We needed to write.
The following year, I was the conference attendee wildly taking notes on how to query, how to revise, how to submit my third book. My friend and I networked with writers from our local area. Those writers became our critique group. We call ourselves the Pandas and we group text way too much, but those women are my but this book sucks antidote. They were with me when I sent out my very first query letter for book three to an agent named Sara Crowe. And they were with me at the SCBWI New England conference a month later when Sara became my agent.
This past year, I was the conference attendee surrounded by friends I had made through the SCBWI. I gave a toast at dinner and started to cry when I talked about that very first conference, when I had stood in the corner, feeling like I didn’t belong at a writer’s conference because I wasn’t a writer.
Four years later I had a book deal.
Of course, hidden inside the word success is the word sucks. That, my friends, is why we have the SCBWI. For every little this sucks that enters your head, the SCBWI will throw you a kick-in-the-pants workshop or a mind-blowing keynote or a kind-spirited friend. They will send you career-building articles, provide you with a neat little folder to rifle through so you don’t look pathetic, hand you a nametag that says you’re wearing a nametag, you must be a professional writer. They will slap you when you’re delusional, feed your muse when you’re about to quit, and, above all, they will make your fingers twitch until you can’t help but say those words.
I need to write.
Carrie Firestone is the author of The Loose Ends List (Little, Brown, 2016). She loves to travel with her husband, and two daughters, Lauren and Emily. When she isn’t writing, you might find her reluctantly sharing her popcorn at the movies, trying to get people (or dogs) to do a conga line, or adding items to her loose ends list. Visit: www.carriefirestoneauthor.com