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