Twenty-five or so years ago, when I was just dreaming about writing books for kids, my friend, author Rina Singh told me I had to go to CANSCAIP’s annual Packaging Your Imagination conference. (In case you don’t know ... CANSCAIP stands for Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.) So I did! And attending the conference, which up until this year, has always taken place in Toronto, helped make my dream of writing – and publishing -- books for kids come true. Rina, as usual, was right!
So you’ll understand how thrilled I was that today, I got to present at Packaging Your Imagination. I could tell you about my talk – which was about doing the research that goes into fiction writing – but I’ll save that for a different day. Today, I want to tell you about some of the many things I learned from attending other authors’ workshops.
Get ready! There’s a lot to tell! But how about I share my absolute favourites?
In this morning’s keynote address, author and storyteller Adwoa Badoe (that's Adwoa in today's pic) not only sang to us, she also told us the story of how life turned her into a writer. “I take risks with my imagination,” she said. “If you don’t like your status quo, then jump and see what happens.”
Frieda Wishinsky shared tips for writing picture book biographies. She explained that, “What happens with the people you write about – they become your friends.” Frieda advised those of us interested in doing historical research to, “look for juicy details” and “find pivotal moments.”
Editor and author Shelley Tanaka did a talk about finding the theme of your story. She believes writers need to ask themselves, “Why are you writing this story in the first place?” Shelley reminded us that, “Writing is not a straight line to perfection.” She had the wonderful suggestion that sometimes we writers hide our themes in odd places. Look, Shelley suggested, for “seemingly inconsequential details that you will remember later.” Shelley called those details, “little sizzles.” And I had one of my proudest writer moments EVER when Shelley talked for a few moments about one of my books – and how behind the zany plot, it deals with the theme of imagination and truth. “Can,” Shelley asked about my character Angelica, “a funny, inventive kid get away with making up things?”
In a panel about kids’ book publishing, three publishers filled us in on what’s happening behind the scenes. Groundwood publisher Karen Li spoke eloquently about the importance of diversity in kids’ books. “It’s not a trend,” she told us. “This is a long time coming. This is a course correction.”
And if you are thinking a wonderful day couldn’t get any better, you’d be wrong. Author and Canadian kid-lit star Teresa Toten delivered the closing keynote, openly describing the struggles she’s faced both in her career and personal life. And she managed to be funny at the same time! “I really want you to learn from the bad bits,” she told us. She shared her list of things writers need to “get up from”: rejection letters, manuscript “surgery,” reviews, and prize lists. But despite the potentially painful parts of the writing life, Teresa explained that, “We do it because we have to do it.” She also stressed the importance of writers supporting other writers: “Let’s be aggressive cheerleaders of each other’s work.” Teresa pointed out that, “What we do is lonely and confusing. It’s so important to fill ourselves up.”
Yes yes yes and yes again to all these wonderful lessons and pointers from today’s conference. Packaging Your Imagination was the perfect way for this writer to get filled up. Thanks to the organizers (they include Heather Camlot, Sharon Jennings, Helena Aalto), presenters, and all the writers for kids, who, like me, do it because we have to. Now go get filled up!!