It’s okay. Take a breath.
I tell myself these words, but it does nothing to quell my excitement and anxiety as I walk down the long carpeted ramp to the critique room at the SCBWI conference.
There I sit with fellow excited/terror-filled SCBWI pals, and we quietly chatter as we read over our work and check on the time every 30 seconds.
Helen Alker is here. Thank god for Helen. She calms everyone down as she ticks us off the list and shows us where we will be sitting when it’s ‘Our Time’.
Everything runs like clockwork. We line up and we enter the room, dashing to our allocated table to sit side by side with the publisher or editor or agent who will assess our work — our heart and soul typed on paper.
As soon as I sit down, I relax.
A wave of calm washes over me and I remember that this is just a conversation. Publishers and editors and agents are just people. People who know more about writing and publishing then me, sure, but they are people just like everyone else.
A critique is an opportunity to get feedback from someone who knows the business, knows books, knows good story. I am hungry for this knowledge, so I sit back and listen, write notes and enjoy the conversation.
The room is abuzz for the next 15 minutes as we all chit-chatter away. I don’t notice anyone around me and I hear no other words than the ones for me.
Then, as quickly as it began, it ends. My 15 minutes is up, and I leave with a mountain of scribbled notes and a smile on my face.
I’m smiling because those 15 minutes were gold. I’m not a published author, and what I presented in my critique still needs some work, but I am now one step closer.
There are limited opportunities to get one-on-one feedback from industry professionals, and I feel lucky to have had this experience to learn and grow as a creator. These moments always make us grow, no matter how the critiques turn out. There is always something new to learn.
I leave the room and sit quietly on a bench to rewrite my notes so they make sense for later. Of course, I think of a million questions I should have asked when I was in there, but I’ve got them written down for next time.
And there will be a next time (and probably another and another), because no matter how nerve-racking critiques can be, they are an important part of the journey.
Massive thanks to everyone involved in making these amazing opportunities possible.
Thank you to the organisers who coordinate manuscripts and portfolios before the event. Thank you to the helpful ushers (Helen and everyone else who helped on the day) who stand at the door for hours and keep time and make sure things run smoothly. Thank you to the publishers and editors and agents who read our work, prepare notes and give us support and encouragement to make our creations the best they can be.