Monday, October 17, 2016

The Return of the Westside Writers Mingle: Conference Highlights & Writing Tips

by Rebecca Light

After a two-month hiatus, the Westside Lit Mingle reconvened in September at the Santa Monica Library. The evening was spent sharing highlights from the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, as well as general writing tips.

There are many events approaching rapidly on the SCBWI calendar, such as Writers & lllustrators Day and the Working Writer’s Retreat. Specifics for SCBWI events can be found on the SCBWI Los Angeles website.

Buzzing with excitement after discussing so many upcoming opportunities, Laurie focused the room with a writing prompt. Given the word “chair,” we took five minutes to free-write in silence, followed by readings from a few brave souls willing to share their impromptu works. The group was treated to a humorous poem, a thriller with a surprising twist, a semi-or-possibly-not-at-all true account of the history of musical chairs, and a comedy—all with one thing in common. A chair. Laurie used this exercise to exemplify one of her favorite moments at the SCBWI conference, when Jon Klassen told the story of an art professor who gave an assignment to a room full of students worried about finding their own style. He instructed them to draw a blue square, and the class consequently produced a room full of entirely unique squares in varying shades of blue. Both the blue square story and Laurie’s writing prompt give excellent reminders to not concern ourselves with whether our content is original or whether we have found our voice. Write what you are compelled to write and how you are compelled to write, and you will end up with an exceptional blue square. 

The discussion continued with more valuable tidbits from the conference. Highlights included Neil Shusterman’s strategies for imaginary world-building, Bruce Coville’s breakout on plot development, and Sophie Blackall’s illuminated adventures in research and collecting. We also touched on the state of children’s publishing from a business standpoint, which is given in a briefing every year at the summer conference. In a much abbreviated nutshell, kidlit remains alive and well.

The Mingle discussion then broadened to writing tips in general, from the conference or anywhere else. One Mingler shared advice from Bruce Coville, who advises writers to utilize all the senses to give their work dimension. Another shared the innovative idea to save your manuscript as an iTunes track and hear it read back to you. Upon mention of the word Scrivener, a perennial love for the writing software quickly percolated through the room.

It was a hearty return to our monthly Mingle. Please join us next month as we discuss “Writer’s Block and Fear,” appropriate topics for an October mingle, inching close to Halloween. Scary! Fear not, we’ll tackle them together. See you in October!