Being Schooled by the Best

by Tracy Barrett

When Paula Danziger took the stage at an SCBWI Summer Conference years ago, I knew I’d be entertained and enlightened. What I didn’t know was that I—and everyone else in the audience—was about to be schooled.

The late Paula Danziger

Ever since I began writing, I’ve loved the supportive community of people who write for young readers. It’s great knowing people who get it, people who speak your language, people who empathize when you’re experiencing a dry period or a string of rejections or a nasty review.

But the danger of all this validation is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of languishing as a Misunderstood Artist. If everyone is endlessly supportive, you risk not facing reality. When everyone around you is telling you that if you just keep trying and believing in yourself eventually you’ll have success, you run the risk of losing perspective. It’s not enough to try hard and to believe in your work—it has to be good. It has to be marketed the right way. It has to have an audience.

In the middle of her remarks, Paula said, “I’ve never had a rejection so I’d like to say I feel your pain, but I don’t.” The shocked silence that followed was broken by a few nervous giggles, and she followed up with, “Hey, I’m not going to apologize for being a better writer than you.”

Later, I found that some people in the audience were insulted by her remarks. But most of us agreed that it was a good dose of medicine. We’d had enough support, enough empathy, enough reassurance.

Time to buckle down and get to work. Time to become a better writer.


  1. The SCBWI tribe is so important BUT only if we are able to give each other the truly critical criticism we all need to be better writers. Having said that--delivery is an art. ;o)

  2. Nothing pushes you to be a better writer quite like rejection.


Post a Comment