Last Saturday I attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-Los Angeles (SCBWI-LA) Critiquenic. The Critiquenic, for those unfamiliar with the term, is an annual critiquing picnic (Critique + Picnic = Critiquenic). Basically, illustrators/writers of the same genre get put into groups moderated by published authors and illustrators. It’s a fun way to meet other writers, get helpful feedback in a friendly outdoor environment, and best of all, it’s FREE!
Suffice to say, it filled up FAST. Although I signed up the instant I heard about it, I was initially waitlisted. But Sue Welfringer and the other event organizers did some amazing work opening up spaces, and I got in! I don’t know how many they originally planned for, but eighteen facilitators and their groups wound up taking over the southern lawn of Roxbury Park.
Heading my YA group was Jennifer Bosworth, whose debut novel Struck was just released. In fact, she’s currently on a cross-country book tour with a few other Macmillan authors. (Considering all the stuff I’ve read about publishers not arranging tours for debut authors, I found that very cool.) She was a great moderator, and in addition to guiding the discussions and giving feedback, she was very sweet about answering our random questions. (By the way, her recommended to-bring items for the LA SCBWI conference were: notebook, layered clothing, and business cards with contact info).
The other participants in my group were wonderful, too. We had a range of ages, and though we all wrote YA, our manuscripts ran the gamut from alternate history to sci-fi to romance/legend.
So all of us had brought five pages/1250 words for critique, and Jennifer made us read our excerpts aloud before opening it up for feedback. The reading part was actually kind of scary for me. The only one that hears me read on a regular basis is my Dragon voice-recognition software, and even that hates my voice. Not to mention, the two ladies that read ahead of me had really nice voices. But I sucked it up and got through it.
Then came the critiquing part. I’d brought Chapter 1 of my WIP, which I’d just rewritten (again) based off feedback from my online critique group. And the main thing I came away with was … I need to scrap it and start all over. Again.
It’s not an awesome feeling, realizing I’ve spent two weeks writing material I can’t use. But better I learn it now than after I’ve revised the entire manuscript to match it. And my group was quite helpful in sparking thoughts as to how I should start my Chapter 1.
So I came out of Critiquenic with a heap of work on my hands. Most of my group did, but that was kind of the point, not to be satisfied with what we had but to help one another figure how to get better. And though it is a little frustrating having to commence work on Chapter 1, version 4.0, I remind myself of something Jennifer mentioned, that she rewrote Chapter 1 of Struck many times over, and that’s the kind of tenacity and dedication it takes to get a manuscript print-worthy.