Monday, September 10, 2012

Back to School Writing Workshop

Last weekend I drove up to the Chicago area (careful not to hit any trucks AT ALL on the way there and back) to give an all-day writing workshop for the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Skokie-based author Carol Grannick did a brilliant job organizing the event; she had attended the retreat I facilitated two summers ago for the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI, and ever since then, the two of us have been scheming about how to put on an intensive, but low-key and low-cost, program in the Chicago area focused on craft rather than marketing. And on Saturday, we did just that. We called the day "Back to School with Claudia Mills," since we knew that writers adore any excuse to buy freshly sharpened number-two pencils and brand-new notebooks.

Over the course of this very full day I gave four talks:
"Sturdy Structure and Peppy Pacing: A How-to Guide"
"'Don't Rub My Face in It": Writing about Weighty Issues without Being Heavy-Handed"
"Manuscript Makeovers: Taking Your Manuscript from Good to Great"
"How to Succeed as a Writer in An Hour a Day: Time Management for Writers"

I also gave thirteen ten-minute critiques on ten-page manuscripts (either picture books or chapters of a novel) submitted to me ahead of time.

I was somewhat nervous about the day because the forty people signed up for the conference ranged from complete beginners to established, well-published writers with starred reviews to their credit. But I think everyone came away from the day with something useful, especially given that I invited the starry stars to chime in with their own insights. I shared every mistake I've ever made as a writer - including mistakes I'm still making ALL THE TIME - and that made everyone willing to 'fess up to all those problems with our own manuscripts that we somehow can't see until someone else points them out to us - even as we can see the same flaws so clearly in everyone else's manuscripts except our own. And maybe now, after an exhausting and exhilarating day spent together, we'll all be a teensy bit better at avoiding them.

In my next post, I'll share some of my own best writing bloopers.