Saturday, December 1, 2012

Being a Teen at a Traditional Writer's Conference

Writer's conferences are one of the great things available to booky people like us. You can go to learn from the classes, meet up with your online friends, introduce yourself to authors you admire, and even pitch your stuff to the pros. But what do you do if you’re a teenager? Most conferences aren’t free or online, and won’t it be hard for people to take you seriously if you’re still going through puberty?

These things were all on my mind as I readied myself for my first conference back in 2010. I was sixteen years-old at the time, and had the daunting task of raising thirteen hundred dollars to go to the ACFW Conference. That money covered travel costs, food, the actual conference, and my hotel room. And I didn’t have a job!

Raising money for my conference was the first hurdle I had to jump, and it’s likely to be the first thing on your mind as you think about attending a writers conference. If I were you, I’d try and go to a smaller conference if it’s your first time. Hop on Google and try to find a reputable one nearby. Your costs will likely be lower than my $1,300, which I raised by mowing lawns.

Yup. The Summer before my conference, I mowed over seventy lawns in the town where I lived. This was hard, sweaty work, but the few times people asked me at the conference if my parents had paid for me to attend, I got to watch their eyes widen when I told them how I’d raised the money myself. Definitely a sweet payoff! But you don’t have to mow seventy lawns. You could try getting a part-time job at a local restaurant, like I did to raise funds for my second conference.

Another hurdle you’ll have to jump is furnishing some credibility for yourself before the conference. Because let’s face it—we’re teenagers. Even when we’re stepping up and showing some initiative, it can be hard for adults to take us seriously. But having some writing credits for magazine articles or placing in a couple of contests can go a long way towards making people take you seriously. At my second conference, I was a finalist in that year’s Genesis competition. I got to wear a shiny ribbon around the hotel, which was as good as saying, “Hey! I’m serious about this writer thing.” I didn’t end up winning, but before the awards banquet a man asked me if I was there because my dad was a finalist. That conversation ended with the man apologizing profusely, and me walking away with a smug grin on my face. It was almost as good as winning the award would have been.

And that’s one thing that helped to keep me going whenever I got nervous. If you view the conference as an opportunity to change people’s usually negative perspectives about teenagers, it can help you muster the enthusiasm to persevere and do your very best.

Writer's conferences can be eye-opening, encouraging, humbling, fun experiences. They’re full of their own highs and lows, but if you remain optimistic, you won’t regret a dime spent attending one.

(Originally posted at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teen Inklings Vol. 23: A New Way of Dealing with Writers Block

Dealing with writers block? Why not get creative and try something new to get over your block?

Six months ago Jacob Parker challenged me to a Word War. The rules were that whoever wrote the most in a twelve hour period was the winner, and the loser had to sing and perform a song written by the winner.

I ended up losing, and it's taken me six months to work up the courage to make my video. But here it is (finally).

Click HERE to watch my video!

Embarrassment is a good motivator. So, if you're in a rut, why not challenge one of your writer friends to a duel? Just make sure the consequence of losing is sufficiently hilarious.

If you liked my video, please share it with your friends and let me know your thoughts in the comments below! :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 22: Letting Others See Your Work

(Originally posted on NextGen Writers)

Letting others see my writing has always been difficult for me. In 2009, I procrastinated for twenty days before joining my first critique group. I wanted my manuscript to be perfect! And, sure enough, after finally joining the group and sending my first chapters out, they came back doused in enough red ink to float the RMS Queen Mary.

Since then, I’ve queried agents and editors, gone to conferences, entered contests, and signed my first contract. All of these things required me to put myself out there, vulnerable, for strangers to judge, and that’s a very hard thing to do. In the past three years I’ve received my fair share of negative feedback—but I’ve never regretted putting myself out there.

Why? Because criticism has made me a much better writer. After the initial sting of a critique, I can usually dig through a reader’s comments and find several nuggets of wisdom. Most critiquers genuinely want to help you make your writing better! After all, they are taking time out of their life to invest in you.

The difficulty of a critique is figuring out what feedback you should take to heart and what you should ignore. A good critiquer will offer suggestions that will change how you say something, not what you’re saying. However, if a reader suggests a change that doesn’t sit well with you, ask yourself some questions. How would that advice make your book better? Why are you so hesitant to make the change? Is it an issue of pride for yourself? At the end of the day, it’s your book. You have to do what you think is right. But if you’re ignoring a suggestion that would truly make your book better, you could be keeping yourself from getting published.

So take feedback seriously, but also take it with a grain of salt. Opinions are subjective and they vary, but if someone who doesn’t know the craft of writing critiques your book and you listen to everything they say, their advice could end up sabotaging your story.

If you’re conflicted about a suggestion, get a second opinion. Find a mentor you trust who knows what they’re talking about and can give you honest feedback. Sometimes I lack the distance it takes to look at my writing from a bigger perspective. A mentor can peer over my shoulder and help me see things differently.

For example, I was a semi-finalist and then a finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Competition this year. I received a wide array of feedback. To prove this, here are the scores I received from the nine judges (in order from lowest to highest) throughout the contest: 64, 74, 78, 79, 85, 87, 91, 95, 99.

If this were school, based on these numbers my grade could be anywhere between an F and an A! I didn’t know what to do with all the comments I’d gotten. So rather than pull all my hair out, I sent my judged pages off to a few people I trusted and let them help me sort through things.

The truth is, I learned something valuable from every one of those judges, even the 64. The least helpful number was actually the 99. It made me feel great to get that score, but I didn’t learn very much from that judge’s comments!

The bottom line is this: Be brave. Put yourself out there to be judged, and then learn how to interpret the advice you’re given. Be willing to make changes, but take time to weigh the pros and cons of each suggestion you’re given. And have someone who can pat you on the back and buy you a wig once you’ve pulled all your hair out.

So, how about you? Are you in a critique group? Was your first critique painful? And if you haven’t joined a critique group yet, why not?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 21: Voice

This month I wanted to talk about authorial voice, as it is something very important for writers to have and develop.

At last year's ACFW Conference, when agents and editors were asked what they look for in the writers who query them, a lot of them said, "Strong voice." This was usually met with a mixture of nods, rolling eyes, and looks of confusion. The confused-looking people were either too shy or embarrassed to ask the real question on their minds, "What in the world is voice?"

You know that's a good question by the diverse array of answers to it. Here's how I'd define it: A writer's voice is the unique style they use to tell a story. It's the difference between James Patterson and Stephen King, Cornelia Funke and Donita K. Paul, Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey, John Flanagan and Rick Riordan. Each of those authors writes fiction, but if you read all their books you'd be able to tell them apart after reading only a page or two of their future works.

Whether you know it or not, everything you write—whether it's a tweet, a Facebook update, or a paper for school—is written in your own individual way. Writer's voice is like your personality or your thumbprint. No one in the world has the same thumbprint as you, and no one has the same voice.

But what exactly is style or voice? It's made up of things like syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, and dialogue. It's the distinct flare you write with. Some writers are funny. Some are dark. Some love sweeping descriptions of setting. Some enjoy scaring the willies out of their readers.

When you're first starting out, you're probably going to copy the style of your favorite authors. But that's okay! The first story I ever wrote was basically LOTR fan fiction (which, I hope, will never see the light of day). Your voice needs time to develop, because it's formed by each and every experience you go through. The way to develop voice is by reading and writing as often as you can. Find out what you like and what you don't like. You might try imitating one of the masters, just to study how voice works.

Anyway, I hope this helps. :)