“Every Book Still Kicks My A**” Words of Solidarity from the SCBWI 2015 NY Winter Conference

By Diana Zipeto

Kwame Alexander, Herve Tullet, Peter Brown and Laura Vaccaro Seeger at SCBWI 2015 Winter Conference
Kwame Alexander, Herve Tullet, Peter Brown and Laura Vaccaro Seeger at SCBWI 2015 Winter Conference

Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher, says that in the midst of struggle, the two words we most want to hear are, “Me, too.” One of my biggest takeaways from the SCBWI 2015 Winter Conference in New York earlier this month was to hear illustrators, authors, mentors and peers saying, “Me, too.” [NOTE: This post predates the#MeToo movement.]

Following are a few of the “Me, too” moments I experienced at this year’s conference:

During the Friday Illustrator’s Intensive workshop, while author/illustrator Peter Brown led us in a 2-hour whirlwind storyboarding exercise, he played his personal Pandora channel for us and explained that in his own creative process, “Every book still kicks my a**.” 

This revealed two things. One: Peter Brown likes Classical music! And two: it lets us know that even published, very successful book creators have to traverse pretty hefty creative obstacles. Struggle is not reserved for the pre-published or the beginners. It’s part of the process.

If he had said, “Each book presents unique difficulties,” it would have seemed calm and aloof. But he said “Every book still kicks my a**.” This is dire! It’s deep! The struggle we feel now in doing our work, it’s not going to change once you get published. You just have to learn to keep navigating it. 

Also at the Illustrator Intensive, author/illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger shared her fantastically messy sketchbooks and told us about her process of making lists, noodling ideas, and visually solving problems. Out of this controlled chaos has come tight, comprehensively great concept picture books.
But, like Peter Brown, she has creative struggles, too. During the making of her Caldecott Honor book, First the Egg, she said that after initially coming up with the premise, “I was getting bored with the idea — it was basically just a list of things.”

She had to push the idea in a direction that kept her interested, something that would take it out of the just-a-list mode. Her visual solution gave the book another layer of interest and a narrative that bound the book together. It is great news to hear that while a project can kind of lose steam, it is well within our grasp to rev it back up again.

Other “me, too” moments:

from Maze Runner author James Dashner:
“I was about ready to give up!”

from Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander:
“I got help from a writing coach!”

from award winning author/illustrator Herve Tullet:
“I don’t really know if I like the children, but I love the babies.”

As I struggle during times of feeling like a book is kicking my a**, or I am losing interest in it, or I think I could use some help, it is valuable to see that lots of book-makers (published, pre-published, awarded, pre-awarded) have the same struggles and come up with solutions.

Conferences seem to be about many things: learning about industry and craft but also connecting with peers and mentors in ways that help sustain you through your struggles and successes as artists. We all need a little “me, too” every once in a while.

Jen Varn, Nancy Goulet, and me at the SCBWI 2015 NY Winter Conference (photo by Debbie Ohi)
Jen Varn, Nancy Goulet, and me at the SCBWI 2015 NY Winter Conference (photo by Debbie Ohi)

Have you been boosted by a “me, too” moment lately?

Diana Zipeto is an illustrator and designer living in an energizing artist community in Lowell, MA. You can see her work at www.dianazipetoillustration.com. She has most recently illustrated books in the Olive and Max series published by Schoolwide, Inc.


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