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What happens when a bunch of children’s literature writers gather together in a creative venue? The answer is a day of creative expression and constructive critique. The SCBWI Peer 2 Peer Critiquenic took place at the Skirball Cultural Center a couple of months ago. The weather graced us with a perfect spring afternoon. Arriving early, and carrying my lunch bag, I stepped up to the check-in table. The registration process was organized and easy. I was the first in my group (young adult) to arrive and was assigned to welcome the rest of the party. I waved a cute animal mask courtesy of SCBWI, greeted and mingled with fellow friendly writers. It was wonderful to run into others I’d meet through various schmoozes.

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Once the groups were full and participants signed in, we were encouraged to find a comfortable spot and begin our session. Parties of four and five people spread out. Like children on a scavenger hunt, we sought our ideal workspace. My group selected the patio. We were in good company. Several other SCBWI participants were at nearby tables.

We took out our work and introduced ourselves. Our uniting threads were the genre and our interest in expressing thoughts in creative form for teens. A critique style was selected, and it was determined that we would read each other’s works out loud. (When you read your own work, it’s common to verbally correct or fill-in missing words. However, when someone else reads it, you are able to hear the bump of clunky sentences and notice sections that need revisions.) Using the sandwich approach: a compliment, suggestion for improvement and follow up with a compliment, we launched into the process. Like the groups around us, there were phrases read that solicited laughter, a couple of gasps of surprise and a yearning to read more work by these talented writers. At the halfway point, we broke for lunch. Conversation flowed as we got to know each other over sandwiches, fruit and chips like children on the school yard.

Full and ready for more feedback, we dove back into the critique session. Each person received feedback about areas that need clarification and questions were asked about how to make certain paragraphs stronger. As the sun shifted position and the afternoon wound down, we realized our time was drawing to a close. Goodbyes were said and email addresses exchanged. I gathered my copies and stepped back into the Cultural Center.

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I spent some time in an interactive 1970s lifestyle exhibit. I felt six years old again as I saw toys and furniture that were a part of my childhood. If only there had been a little oven that baked cakes with a light bulb. Every few minutes, those of us who remembered when all the stuff in the room was cool, exchanged little smiles. Thanks Skirball for helping us skip down memory lane.

On the way home, I rode on a buzz of the day’s creative energy. Here are three takeaway:

  • SCBWI rocks! They put together a great Critiquenic. The Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators ensured the registration process was organized and easy. Writers were welcomed and knew that they would experience a special day.
  • Sometimes you need an additional set of eyes and nonbiased parties to read your work. The group caught clichés my writers’ group missed.
  • SCBWI events refuel the creative well. The location and support from fellow writers lifts the spirit. How could you not feel creativity jazzed after hanging out with creative minds?

If you missed it the June Peer 2 Peer Critiquenic, I suggest you attend next year.

Participant Sandi Michaelian described the day best:

“I enjoyed the critique day very much! I received helpful and creative feedback that I could incorporate into my story. My group was supportive and nice. I look forward to going next year.”

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