This post is just one in a series about the 2008 Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Mentoring Conference. Click the RUCCL tag above to read them all.

My notes have been exhausted. I’ve taken a week to think hard about all the suggestions I received. About all that I learned. So what lessons have I taken away from this experience?

I just gotta be me. I may be a little more educated now, but I can’t change who I am.

One of the questions posed to writers during the five-on-five discussion was where we get our ideas. I find it odd when non-writers ask this question because the answer seems very obvious to us: we don’t know.

A spark fires in our brains, as unexpected as a lightning strike on a cloudless day. We feel an attraction to the idea and it becomes a part of us. We cherish it and nurture it like a mother cares for her child. It is ours and ours alone; we have created it. If you asked me exactly how I arrived at the idea, I might have a concrete example to throw at you. Or I might not. Writers often look for the fabulous realities in everyday life, but I get just as many ideas while I’m flossing my teeth.

I don’t look at the current list of best-sellers to find my next idea. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is wildly popular, but I’m not going to drop my projects to write about vampires. It’s not my thing. It’s hers. Graphic novels are hot. Not exactly my thing, either. Yes, it’s important to be up-to-date with market trends, but follow fads too closely and by the time your work has been completed and published, the fad may have faded. Know the competition, but know how to be different and fresh.

K.L. Going was correct when she told us to write what we like, even if no one else “gets it.” Our enthusiasm is what injects our story with excitement. It’s what keeps us writing. If you try to be someone else just to please a specific audience, you won’t be a happy writer. And that can lead to not being a writer at all.

A few days before the conference, I went shopping for a new outfit. (Yes, this segue has a point.) The business-casual clothes in my closet are six years old, from my life before daughters. They’re dated and they don’t fit anyway. So I bought something very professional-looking in neutral colors. The morning of the conference, I put it on. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. So I took it off and put on a ruffled magenta-purple blouse and wide-leg jeans. Ahhh. Much better. Now that’s Tara.

So I’m going to run with my ideas. Not only do I love them, I don’t know how to exist any other way. I do have a new appreciation for how to mold my ideas to the market, however. It’s all about balance, but with the scale tilted ever so slightly in my direction.

So what did you learn at RUCCL?