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You realize how you’ve grown. It’s sometimes hard to know as you plod along if you’re actually making progress, growing in your craft and skill, etc. This weekend I attended an SCBWI-MI conference. I’ve been attending for (I think) four or five years, off and on. Let’s reflect.

Year one: I was overwhelmed with the basics of publishing. I was sure my writing was professional and awesome; I simply needed to know how to stand out from the slush. Wait, what? Picture books are a dying breed and the world isn’t yammering for another one about a little girl who is moving? Huh. I join a critique group.

Year two: My picture book critique with an editor goes wrong wrong wrong. My car gets a flat tire, and as I’m literally walking a labyrinth, I begin to realize writing picture books is the hardest thing EVER. Later, in the bathroom some women are talking about prom queens, homecoming queens, etc. It somehow comes out that I was once the queen of a military ball. Someone says, that would make an interesting character; and an idea for novel character begins to take shape. I decide to really learn how to write a novel.

Year three: I show an agent my military novel. She says, “This is pleasant read,” which simultaneously pisses me off and fuels my desire to make it better. She makes plot suggestions that seems incredibly daunting, but incredibly right. I realize I’m up for the challenge and have an energy for it that’s a little beyond balanced. I’m nearly obsessed.

Year four: I show an agent my military novel again. He says he loves it. I’ve never had anyone say that. Not even myself. I realize I’m in over my head. I send the whole thing to him anyway, and get signed. I’m overly excited. Overly expectant. Overly scared. I’m always an over-doer. I realize the value of SCBWI.

Year five: I skip all the conferences. I can’t afford them. I revise with my agent. I work diligently on my web presence. A year of writing has never passed so damn slowly.

Year six: (I’m so bad at keeping track of time) This brings us to yesterday. At the conference, I listen carefully, I network, I do a bit of writing. I realize something weird. I think I’ve outgrown my NEED for writing conferences. Not that there wasn’t value; there was! But, in six years I’ve learned the basics of writing for young adults. I’ve practiced my craft. I’ve gotten connected to an agent. I’ve gained a strong understanding of the publishing industry.

Holy CRAP! I’ve really grown. It may be at a tortoise’s pace, but I’m satisfied with my progress. I’m not even going to call PUBLICATION the finish line. I’m going try very hard, in fact, to not call this a race. So Un-American, I know, but goals don’t suit me. Finish lines are too tight around my waist. I hope I never have a point in my writing career where I say, “Well, it’s over: I’ve won” or “That’s it: I’m through.”  I don’t know if I’ll have a year seven with SCBWI conferences, I’ve been thinking about starting a critique group with actual high school students in Indianapolis. I think what I need to focus on right now, is writing time. And teenagers. That’s where my lack is now, not my knowledge of the publishing industry. This is not what I expected to learn at the conference, but I’m grateful that I did.