Friday was an incredible day for the 208 writers who took part in the manuscript intensive session with 26 editors and agents.
Most people in the room were there for the first time (I'm one of those intensive newbies, so I was sweating along with the rest).
Mary Jackson of San Antonio, Texas found her first writer's intensive session to be "life changing."
"My hands were shaking as I was handing out manuscripts and they should be," she said.
Mary read the first 500 lines of her picture book--a piece she's been working on for several years. Rachel Griffiths, a senior editor at Scholastic, and Diane Muldrow, an editorial director at Golden Books/Random house gave feedback on Mary's rhyming story.
"They were both awesome," she said. "I learned so much in 12 minutes. I know now what I do to make that piece better and to make it sing."
Some feedback was especially heartening, as when Diane Muldrow pointed out a pair of couplets that reminded her of Ogden Nash's verse.
"That comment, I'm going to take to my grave," she said.
Before this experience, Mary had been getting feedback from family and friends. That's good for the ego, but not as good for the manuscript (though her 17-year-old son has given her helpful feedback on a YA novel in progress, she said).
Mary is now so enthusiastic about manuscript critiques that she contacted the SCBWI's Aaron Hartlzer for a hookup with a critique group.
"The best way to get better is to stay in a community," she said. "I've learned that I need this community of writers."
"Yesterday really absolutely was a turning point," she added. "I can divide my writing life now into before the critique and after the critique. The way I approach my work now will be different. I know now what doesn’t resonate and what does. I was emotionally attached to this piece. I thought I had stepped back enough and I hadn’t. It was a powerful lesson for me."
If you'd like to join a critique group, that's a benefit of your membership. Go to the SCBWI Regional Chapters page for the information you need.