A couple weeks ago, I got to attend WriteOnCon, an online conference specifically for writers of children’s books, middle grade, and young adult. Was it Amazing? Yes. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here is a Top 5 Countdown of my favorite takeaways from the event. I hope you’ll learn from my experience, and maybe even mark your calendar to join me next year.
5: Small Groups = Big Impact
During the Live Q&A events at WriteOnCon, a lot of the same people showed up to multiple topics or panels. By the end of the three day weekend, I was familiar with the names of the most active attendees. Which is amazing. Because this means that those of us who were there to get answers had the full attention of these professional editors, agents, and successful writers. Some of these same professionals were also stalking the forums, leaving feedback or constructive criticism on query letters and sample pitches. I learned that an online conference is a huge opportunity to connect with these big-name pros in a way that you’d never have, even at an in-person conference.
4: The Best Advice Comes From Unexpected Places
I believe that you can apply good writing advice across any genre or age group. So I watched/listened to/read everything for every topic. Screenwriting? Cool. Chapter books? Awesome. Working with illustrators? Why not. Writing YA love triangles? Well… okay… surprise me. Believe it or not, I learned something from every one of them. The strangest source of great writing advice was actually from a workshop about eBooks:
There’s no such thing as a fast, free, easy tool to make you a better writer.
Never put a limit on where you can learn or who you should listen to. There are great people with a lot of knowledge out there, and if you’re listening, you’ll surely learn something.
3: Focus On What Matters
Modern writers have a lot of things to think about if they want to make it as a professional. Being an author encompasses a lot more than simply penning a novel. New writers especially can get bogged down by the various “requirements” that come with the occupation; social media, marketing, trends, query letters, editing, and tons more if they’re considering going Indie. While understanding your job is wise, many professionals were quick to remind us that the most important thing a writer needs to focus on is the writing itself.
I don’t think we have to worry about market. We just have to write.
-Gail Carson Levine
Ultimately, a writer is nothing until the story is finished. I learned that a finished novel will speak more to agents and publishers than followers on a blog or activity on social media. That’s not to say social media isn’t an important tool for writers, but remember why you’re there in the first place and devote yourself more to the book than the platform.
2: Writing Isn’t Supposed To Be Efficient
For some reason, there’s a misconception that when a person sits down to write they need to get everything right the first time. That it’s wrong to change our mind about the direction in the middle of the novel. It’s a waste of time to go back and re-write entire sections. That we should feel guilty or apologize if we fall short of writing it through from Once Upon A Time to The End without a hitch. Not only is this view wrong, it’s an easy trap. It creates a ton of problems for writers, especially if they consider themselves a perfectionist. And a lot of us do.
Let yourself discover as you go along.
During WriteOnCon, I was both empowered and freed as writers at every level, Debut to New York Times Best Seller, shared that they struggle with the very same things we beginners do. Imposter syndrome, guilt over wasted words, cut scenes, missed opportunities, abandoned ideas, draft after draft, and edits on edits. Everyone deals with it. And it doesn’t go away. Sounds like a downer, right? Why would someone pick this as a career? The reasons probably change from person to person, but for me it’s because creativity isn’t so much an occupation as it is a way of life. If you’re writing because you can’t stop writing you’re going to be okay and you’re in good company.
1: No One Goes To Book Jail
My favorite piece of advice from WriteOnCon was, in context, about what kinds of questions are appropriate to ask agents. The panelist, Eric Smith, was quick to assure us that most agents are happy to answer your questions, as long as you’re polite about it. What are they going to do? Throw you in writer’s prison for asking?
No one goes to Book Jail.
Agents certainly don’t seem as intimidating after WriteOnCon. But that’s not why this quote stood out to me as a highlight of the event. If you’re like me, a stereotypical artsy-fartsy werido who’s afraid to ask for anything, self-promote, or talk about my work lest it offend anybody, this quote is like permission to be brave with a side of freedom. I see myself parading on social media going “I’m promoting my book, what are you going to do? Throw me in Book Jail?” or emailing an author to request an interview thinking to myself “What’s the worst you can do to me for asking? Throw me in Book Jail?”. It reminds me to lighten up a bit on myself, plus it makes me laugh. Win-win.
WriteOnCon is an annual writing conference. Their 2018 conference ran February 9 through February 11, but all posts, podcasts, and recorded events are still accessible through March 11 if you purchase an Extended Admission ticket for $15. Check out the Registration page for more information. Also, be sure to subscribe for their mailing list if you’re interested in participating next year.