Running a wee bit behind, I raced out of my hotel room on the 14th floor. RA Debbie Gonzales had just texted me "Are you going to make it?" She was talking about the surprise visitor who was about to take the stage in the Los Angeles Ballroom. I made it and sat on one of the tables at the back of the room. There wasn't a seat to be found. People sat cross-legged on the floor and stood in corners. The house was packed and who was surprised because relaxed and sitting in comfortable Oprah-like comfy chairs, Executive Director Lin Oliver was interviewing the extraordinary author Judy Blume.
I unzipped my binder as quietly as possible and listened as Judy spoke about finding herself as an author and how writing saved her. She loved taking care of her babies, her children, but there was a gaping hole missing in her life and the mundane tasks of keeping house everyday was literally sucking the life out of her. She needed something more. She found it when she started to write. It was like magic. However, editors didn't concur in those first few rhyming picture books that landed on their desks. They were awful Judy said, but she began to take writing classes. The classes made her accountable and she developed a consistent writing routine. She had goals and deadlines and a supportive teacher who believed in her. Everybody needs a support system she said.
Remember that piece of advice writers. Who is your support system? Do you have one? If you don't, find one. And if you live in the Austin area visit one of the monthly Austin SCBWI meetings and your fellow writers will help you. That's what the community is there for -- to support you in your journey.
Judy then went on to talk about how she eventually found her groove in writing because she was such an ardent reader. Anyone who wants to be a writer must be a reader. She keeps a binder for each book and she writes everything in journals to get to know her characters before she starts the novel. Her first drafts are messy and writing is hard. It's still hard after 40 years she said, the anxiety doesn't go away. But she knows she can do it. She starts her novels on the day that is different, but sometimes she has to write many, many pages before she knows what that different day is for her characters.
There's no one way to write she said. Find what works for you. Everybody's process is different. Judy writes to find out what's going to happen to her characters. And while I was sitting there, mouth gaping open, I whispered, "me too."
(My favorite Judy Blume book which I read when I was twelve or thirteen. I never forgot it. Because like Judy, Margaret was me.)
There were many profound things Judy said in that one hour but I want to leave you with this takeaway from her talk because I thought it was so true.
Attending a conference leaves you overwhelmed, bedazzled, stimulated, sometimes overstimulated and inspired. But when you go home, you need to forget it. Leave your notes in your drawer. It's inside you now. So just go ahead and write. Write what's inside of you. And it will find an audience.
Judy started out not knowing what she was doing. Not knowing how to write. The important thing is this -- she wrote!