Yesterday, I attended another SCBWI conference. Usually, those make me cranky and frustrated, but this time, even though I got another rejection, and even though the event had the same frustrating characteristics, I walked away with some useful ideas plus one epiphany that could change everything about the story I've been working on for six years. Here are a few of the notes I took when I was inspired by something and applied it to my situation. These aren't quotes or paraphrases, except for number one, which is somewhat close to something Matt de la Peña said, so credit to him for the idea.
1. This (writing) has to matter to me no matter if anyone else knows I'm doing it.
2. It's time to face the issue of plotting and the stack of writing books hidden in the desk.
3. Read. Figure out a way to want to do it. It'll probably mean turning off the computer.
4. Stop being lazy about research. And do it on ground as much as possible.
5. My strengths are not enough [to carry a story]. If I want the good parts of my writing to merge into a well-written story, I'll have to give time to my weaknesses.
6. There's no such thing as a one-book wonder. One book is a wonder in itself.
7. I have at least two stories in me I've been too scared to tell. They may be the best stories I've got.
8. Everything (you know this, but still)--everything [in a story] needs to be relevant.
9. Research helps you open your writing mind and expands your written worlds.
10. This, my epiphany, won't mean anything to most of you. One of the speakers rhetorically asked how we'd describe our stories in one line in a format sort of like, "This is a story about [insert your main character's name] who wants [insert your main character's need]." That's when I quickly, without even thinking, wrote this: "This is a story about Marie who wants to find her mother." Then I wrote: "Oh god," because for the past 6 years, I've been writing this story with the assumption that Marie was looking for her father. It turns out, it's her mother she really needs to connect with. How could I have worked on a story for that long without realizing what my main character's core motivation is? I don't freaking know. It's just one of those things writers get blocked about. Writer's block isn't someone sitting in front of a blank white page not knowing what to say or not having ideas. It's when writers are blind to something completely obvious because, as in their own lives, they're often too close to have a clear perspective.