don’t forget the chocolates!

When packing for a conference, there’s an unwritten rule about one item that must be included:

Chocolates. Don’t dare forget the chocolates!

There’s just something about getting out of town for a weekend that brings out the playfulness in a mother, and chocolates seem to be the writer-mother’s "drug" of choice.

This time last week, after throwing in the final load of laundry prior to my out-of-town trip, I opened my Facebook wall to update my status:

"Heading to Sioux Falls later today to take in a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Having a slumber party with my writer friends tonight. Pillow fight anyone?"

Later that evening at the hotel, I checked and saw that my best writer-mama-pal had posted a response. Mary and I have traveled to many conferences together, but she learned about this one after she’d scheduled her piano students’ annual spring recital. Though I enjoyed the solo drive south, Mary’s absence was felt. So I was especially delighted to "see" her on Facebook responding to my earlier proclamation:

"But, you’re eating chocolate, aren’t you?" she asked. "And, talking as fast as you can about books and ideas and kids and writing. I know what I’m missing!!!"

Of course, she nailed it. She did know. She’d been there before. The bag of Dove chocolates was indeed within reach, and my two South Dakota roommates and I were on a roll, ruminating about the world’s problems, commiserating over the challenges of the writing business, and sharing our joys and hopes for what we’d like to achieve in our lives as mothers, wives and writers.

As with most such things, conferences are valuable experiences in and of themselves. They are time-outs from the real world to think about the bigger picture. Everyone needs that every once in a while. But the behind-the-scenes moments can be every bit as valuable as the presentations themselves.

I will count among the weekend’s treasures two evenings of dining with conference organizers and presenters — the good food that was consumed as well as the lively conversations that went down as a result of being gathered with like-minded colleagues from far and near.

Driving from Fargo on a sunny, spring afternoon, listening to the book-on-tape I’d checked out at the library a few days prior in anticipation of time alone — this, too, will remain a cherished part of the weekend.

I needed this conference. It was time. I’d just emerged from winter, Lent, flood worries and a desserts fast into Easter and spring. After pulling back from the world for a while, it was time to engage in it again. The conference fit in well with the grander scheme of where I’m at in my life and what I seek.

While I can’t share every last detail of my Sioux Falls adventure, I do want to leave you a few morsels of sweetness — bits of food for thought I wrote down over the weekend, notebook in hand. I hope something here inspires you, whether for writing or life in general:

Rebecca Johnson, author –

"Your best resources are the people in your life." 

"Most subjects have been written about before. Let your challenge be to look for the fresh approach."

"I never apologize for writing non-fiction. It’s been such a source of inspiration for me!"

"Think of how humbling it would have been for the scientist who held this new species for the first time, knowing you’re the first person to see it, ever." (When talking about the Census of Marine Life discoveries, in particular, the never-before-seen rainbow crab.)

Chris Richman, literary agent –

"You need to be prepared for the opportunities."

"Even if you’ve written the next masterpiece, the pitch has to be something that makes someone want to read it."

"Simply put, a query should state what your book is about and who you are."

"(Within the query) Use funny turns or phrases to make your voice come out."

Linsday Schlegel, editor –

"You must write for children the same way you do for adults, only better."

"A picture book story should take you somewhere."

"You can use rhyme but don’t force it." 

"You also can use repetition. Just don’t say it exactly the same way every time."

Maya Angelou, from the book-on-tape, A Song Flung Up to Heaven

“To become wonderfully successful and to sustain that success in any profession, one must be willing to relinquish many pleasures and be ready to postpone gratification.”

Q 4 U: When heading out of town for a weekend, what is one item for which you’d have to turn back if you forgot to pack it?