Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 22, 2015

Marie L. Pfeifer: Thoughts Inspired by John Cusick’s Closing Keynote

Call for articles: At the NJSCBWI conference I talked about the importance of getting your name out there and suggested that everyone had the perfect opportunity to write something about one of the workshops they attended. Writing an article would be a good way to build a writer’s audience, help give back to the writing community, and help give me a day off. Everyone wins. Marie L. Pfeifer took me up on the invitation and wrote this article inspired by John Cusick’s closing keynote.

john cusickpresentation

A Writer’s Mind by Marie L. Pfeifer

Are writers different from other people? Perhaps we are, and that is what drives me to spend hours at my desk making up stories, daydreaming and carrying on conversations with imaginary characters.

Although I have been writing for print and digital media for many years covering events, writing feature stories and co-author of a filmed documentary, writing children’s books is new to me. Reading them aloud to children and grandchildren for decades is not. It didn’t take too long to realize that my membership in SCBWI, and my attendance at the conference was not by chance but the beginning of a journey that changed the path my writing life will now follow.

John Cusick, of Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management, in his Closing Keynote presentation, “How to be a Writer Without Totally Losing Your Mind.” at 2015 SCBWI Conference this past weekend, shared some fascinating insights about what goes on in the mind of a writer.

“Writing isn’t just a task or a job. It’s a way of seeing the world, a certain kind of distraction, an apparent removal from reality, when in fact you are extraordinarily, deeply within it. It’s not that you’re not listening, it’s just the conversation is continuing in your head. You don’t spend all day alone, but with an ever-expanding universe of characters. It would be nice if the world weren’t so loud, and distracting, and invasive, but it is interesting, and heartbreaking, and funny, and satisfying, and without it, we’d have nothing to write about. So it’s not writing on one side and life on the other, but your life as seen through your writing”

Surrounded by people who value more stable, consistent endeavors I began to believe that this quirk in my nature was a deterrent to eventual success in the world of writing. Thanks to John, I now feel that its pretty normal to possess such a quirky brain.

At the conference when I wasn’t breathing in knowledge that the workshop faculty offered about the craft of writing and the mechanics of the industry, I was meeting published writers and illustrators, editors and agents. It was a heady experience coming face to face with so much talent contained in one place.

I learned so much from the faculty and the people I met that I am still processing the many insights into the wonder of the writing world of children’s books.

I began my personal journey by writing a script that I believed was a picture book. After the sixth workshop I was sufficiently educated about the craft of picture books to realize that my script was not a picture book.

Today, I am back at my desk having some serious conversations with my characters. Some of them are worried that they will get cut from the script or lose some of their lines. It seems we have to do some serious rewriting of our script and come to an agreement as to how this story will be told and who, exactly is our audience.

One last thought from John, “Remember that your job is to sit down and start. That’s it. You’re not here to finish the book or become a great writer.”

MariePhotoMarie L. Peifer’s career began as an appointed public official, Municipal Clerk, for fifteen years, followed by fifteen years in a telephony company as a customer service representative to the regional telephony companies.

As a freelance writer for the past fifteen years she has written for print and digital media writing feature stories and covering events and lectures by such notables as Bill Moyers and BarbaraWalters.

Marie was a co-wrtier of the video, “The White Man on the Bicycle” that premiered in 2013 in Morristown, NJ.

Thank you Marie for sharing the inspiration that John gave all of us to end the conference. Hopefully, everyone else will pick up a little bit of inspiration from your experience.

Anyone else have a article they could share with the other writers and illustrators who follow and visit this blog? Would love to feature another writer.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Marie, I just love what you have written here. Thank you. I sat through John’s keynote address hoping to retain bits and pieces from it to help keep me motivated as I returned home from that incredible conference weekend.
    You captured the essence of the speech beautifully. Now… If I can just follow through with John Cusick’s advice and “just sit down and start”!
    BTW… I absolutely love “The White Man on The Bicycle”. That white man is my brother, Tom Johnson!
    I wish I had known you were at the conference!


    • Karen, I am just seeing this for the first time. We should connect. Please contact me. I would love to meet you!


  2. Love WHITE MAN ON A BICYCLE. Why don’t you put that story into a picture book to inspire even more young people.


  3. Thanks for sharing “gold dust” from this conference!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: