For my friends and readers who aren’t in the kidlit world, NESCBWI is the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an incredible organization and they put on a fantastic conference this past weekend. Workshops, speakers, raviolis, and catching up with my writer-friends in person? Pretty amazing.
My favorite part of the weekend was the keynote address by author Laurel Snyder. If you’re like, “That’s a familiar name…but I can’t pinpoint it…” it’s probably because she also contributes to NPR on occasion. Her name may occupy the same cerebral storage pod that keeps words like: “Lakshmi Singh,” “Kai Ryssdal, ” and “Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.”
The big idea: A writer has to look bravely inside themselves and write from the fear, triumph, friendship, and the love that only they have felt.
But to unpack that, the part that really set bells ringing in my mind was when she put up a slide with three photos. The first was Laurel as a teenager, a little angry looking, with a mushroom haircut and black clothing. The next was Laurel as a grown woman on stage wearing a flowing dress and joyfully playing a ukeleli, the third was Laurel at home being tackled by a beautiful baby boy.
The specificity of images like those, that is personal. No one in the world has lived her life, had that particular mushroom haircut and that particular angst. Even if she was just a kid whose parents split – one of many- she’s the only one who lived her own situation, in her city, with her music collection, and with her mom and dad. Same for the moments of joy. That’s where she writes from, and in some ways writes about, and that’s why her voice and her stories are so authentic and important.
Every single author in that room – every author everywhere, has their “list of things”. The true, personal things that make you you. That’s the jackpot. That’s where the writing should live.
This took me back to middle school. I was trying to grow my bangs out and wearing a baggy hoodie every day – just looking forward to the 25 minutes we got for SSR. Reading Brian Jacques and the REDWALL series and having that be a sanctuary in a relentless storm of awkwardness.
Laurel asked us to identify who our reader is. For her, she writes for her younger self – and I think I do that too. I didn’t realize it, necessarily, but it’s a powerful thought. The only good stuff is going to come from a place that is unique to you, and each one of is made of a million authentic moments.
I returned home so ready to create and so inspired by everyone I met. Creating stories for kids – this is important stuff, you guys. I feel really honored to do it.