By Wendy Leiserson
It started with an idea and a passion. To write. To find readers. And to get paid.
Six months ago I decided to take myself seriously as a writer. Ready to resume a career after motherhood and not wishing to return to the 9 to 5ish lifestyle, I naively told my husband that I would “give it one year” and see what happens. Ha! True to form, direction chosen, I barreled down the path towards becoming a professional writer and what I’ve learned has surprised me.
Some newborn writers might start with the question of “how do I publish my masterpiece?” I started with the question “how do I learn to be the kind of writer who can get published?”
First, I hit the books. Guided by my academic bent, I searched for classes on writing. And I found great ones in the Boston area including:
- Pat Sherman’s picture book writing class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE).
- Vicki Coe’s writing for middle grade and young adults also at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE).
- Holly Thompson’s 6 Weeks, 6 Picture Books at Grub Street.
- Workshops offered by The Writers’ Loft including multiple picture book writing classes by Charlesbridge editors Karen Boss and Julie Bliven and Josh Funk’s presentation about how writers use Twitter.
Whew! I’ve been busy. I can highly recommend each and every one of these opportunities, but not for the reasons you might imagine. Yes, I learned a lot about the craft of writing from these amazing authors and editors. Perhaps more important, however, I found that meeting people who have lived the dream of publication made my dream seem more accessible.
Nonetheless while still chasing the dream one class at a time, I learned the brutal reality of how hard it is to get published. I admit that I was caught off guard by realizing that I must master not only the craft, but also the business of writing – from pitching and querying to marketing via social media, library, school, and bookstore appearances.
I needed to hit the streets – to hang out where the “real” writers go. Pat Sherman was the first to tell me about the resources of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask her to repeat the organization’s name but I am so grateful she did!
Immediately upon joining SCBWI, I registered for their New England regional conference aptly themed “The Power of (Re)Invention” in Springfield, MA. This was the first of several writers’ gatherings I’ve since attended but by far it’s had the biggest impact.
Feeling shy and uncertain I walked into the hotel ballroom and pretended to belong there. I delighted in celebrity sightings – encountering authors I have long admired – and I listened for the professional secrets imparted in its plethora of workshops.
My biggest conference takeaway, however, was the joy I found in the NESCBWI community. Nothing can convey how I felt at discovering that there are not handfuls of fellow aspirants but hundreds who share my love for children’s books. What’s more, I found professionals who welcomed newborn writers with a more-the-merrier attitude, despite the scarcity of publication opportunities. [If you live outside New England, check SCBWI for a region near you–there are local chapters all over the world.]
Jonesing for the inspirational high I got in Springfield, I’ve since participated in as many writing conferences as possible. Each meeting I’ve attended has had its own flavor and wisdom. NESCBWI connected me with other writers in my area, some of whom are now part of my local critique groups including, of course, my fellow Writers’ Rumpus members. The SCBWI conference in Los Angeles offered stellar keynotes and insights to the national marketplace. It’s also where I met my online critique group members. The NESCBWI Squam Lake Writers Retreat organized by Melissa Fischler Hed and Jilly Gagnon provided an intimate setting to meet with publishing professionals and get critiqued by them.
NESCBWI Encore! in Providence, Rhode Island, reprised top rated workshops from the Springfield conference and allowed me to reconnect with friends I made there.
No doubt I have a gluttonous appetite for writing classes and meetings. The secret ingredient I crave is the inspiration and communal support necessary to keep me charging down the writing path. However, there is no escaping the fact that to be on this path requires stopping to write along the way. And so, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be sitting in my desk chair trying to apply all that I’ve learned so far.
Six months ago, I thought I’d know by now whether I have a chance at becoming a published author. Halfway to my one-year goal I recognize that I must extend my timeline. I’ve still got a lot to learn and do en route to (hopefully) publication. I look forward to meeting you somewhere along the way.
Wendy recently realized that instead of being a professional student she could write outside of academia! A member of SCBWI and The Writers’ Loft, Wendy writes nonfiction for all and fiction for children (PB/MG). Prior to becoming a writer, Wendy practiced and taught nonprofit law. She holds law degrees from Oxford (B.A. Hons.), SUNY at Buffalo (J.D.), and Harvard (LL.M.) as well as a degree in psychology from Smith College (B.A.). Wendy lives happily with her husband, Charles, daughter, Katie, and a sweet but grumpy cat named Tigger. The family dinner table expands to include her 3 delightfully grown-up stepchildren and their families.
I admire your passion, love your authentic “voice”, and agree wholeheartedly about the value of the conferences. ENCORE in particular is a one-day powerhouse of talent and inspiration, at such a reasonable price.
Hi Laura, yes, ENCORE is a great opportunity for writers who for one reason or another were either not able to attend NESCBWI or missed the specific workshops being offered again.
This is not only well written, it’s wonderful inspiration for all those newbies in the writing for children arena. Welcome to our group. You are on the road to publication. I just know it!
Thanks, Carol! I’ve feel so lucky to have found the Rumpus group. I know I’m getting quality writing instruction from you and the rest of the group when we meet to critique each other’s work.
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Wendy, I’ve readjusted my time, too. It’s a tough business, but SCBWI conferences are the best (mine, the best in the Midwest). Thanks for letting us share your motivating post. Write on.
Pam, thanks for the supportive response about persisting beyond any artificial timeline. I hope to meet you at one of the national SCBWI conferences – or see your name in print – soon!
I loved seeing you at ENCORE, Wendy! Thanks for a great post about the opportunities here and elsewhere!
Kirsti, it’s always fun to see you! With your smile and your signature style, you are one of the familiar welcoming faces I remember from my first SCBWI event in Springfield. I hope to see you again at the Rumpus in November.