I recently attended the SCBWI regional writers’ conference near Fredricksburg, Maryland.  There was a packed house of eager writers scribbling notes, hoping to absorb great wisdom from a few goddesses of the publishing world.  In case you didn’t make it, I scribbled a few notes myself.


Marilyn Brigham, editor from Marshall Cavendish, started the event.  Hardly a warm up act, her talk kept my pencil moving from the first utterance. I’ll highlight her tips, at least the ones I can read.

  • Use powerful words and sentence structure.
  • Repetition is bad. (You could feel the picture book authors gasping.  She later explained that she wasn’t talking about purposeful repetition.) Watch for words that keep creeping up in your language. (ie, though, just, so, really, etc.)
  • Along the same lines, watch for echoes like unfair and unfairness or phrases like “of course”, “I was like,” and “I couldn’t help but wonder.”
  • When fleshing out ideas for ideas for a story, mix it up and keep it fresh. Lots of stories or themes have been told over and over, but in a unique way.
  • Don’t overstate the message in the story.
  • Don’t use adult language in a children’s story.  Seems obvious, but she’s seen everything.
  • Don’t use out of date language.
  • Cliches – editors hate them – repeat – editors hate them.
  • Cut out the clutter – adverbs are mostly unnecessary.  Watch for too many adjectives, too.
  • Cut out unnecessary prepositions. “face up to the problem.”
  • Cut out words that are implied. “tall skyscraper.”
  • Use parallel sentence structure. “I came. I saw. I conquered.”
  • Use active voice. “The letter was mailed by Dad.” vs. “Dad mailed the letter.”
  • Look to the writers you admire.  Read. Read. Read.
  • Writing is HARD WORK!

Thanks, Marilyn, for all of those great tips.

As tough as it is to give up the money and the time to go to a conference, it is part of how you become a writer – a better writer, that is.  One who can write a book, package it, sell it, and get it into the hands of readers, many of whom are writers. Thanks to Edie Hemingway and the rest of the SCBWI MD/DE/WV organizing team for putting on a such great conference.

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