The Utah Valley Convention Center was packed to the brim with 1,000 teenagers from all over the U.S. on March 23.
They were there for the ninth annual Teen Author Boot Camp. This year’s keynote speakers were New York Times bestselling authors Ally Carter and Brandon Mull, giving budding writers the chance to literally learn from the best of the best.
I first heard about the boot camp several years ago when my debut young adult series came out. Two of the co-founders — authors Jennifer Jenkins and Jo Schaffer — were my “publishing siblings.” That’s industry lingo for we all had books released from the same publishing house. But I’d never experienced boot camp until now.
Jennifer and Jo warned me that when they marched all of us author “drill sergeants” into the ballroom it would be emotional, and they were right.
For one thing, I was exhausted. I’d spent the previous three days visiting middle schools and libraries all over Utah Valley promoting my new book, “Narcosis Room” by Louise Cypress. For another, I was surrounded by so much positive energy that it was impossible not to feel kids’ enthusiasm wash over me.
This year, the theme of boot camp was “Find Your Clan,” and as I looked across the ballroom I saw teens in all direction who were passionate about writing. Their arms carried stacks of books, notebooks and computers. Some of them were dressed up as their favorite book characters. Every single teen was so motivated to be there that they’d showed up at 8 a.m. Saturday ready to learn.
Ally Carter, author of “The Gallagher Girls” series, kicked the conference off with a metaphor about why creative writing is like a garden hose that’s been dormant all winter. You have to let the hose run a while to get out all of the cobwebs before the clean water flows.
After the opening ceremonies, students attended workshops taught by more than 20 different authors. My class was called “Ponder, List, Outline, Type: Plot Your Novel in 4 Easy Steps.” I brought 200 handouts with me and didn’t have enough for all my students. I ran around the ballroom to answer questions and saw teens furiously taking notes about everything I said.
Later that evening, Brandon Mull, of “Fablehaven” fame, concluded the conference by sharing how important it was to follow your creative dreams and not give up. “Don’t let all the meaness kill your honesty,” he told the kids. “It’s OK to write what matters most to you.”
When I was a teenager I only had time to write essays and college applications. That’s not what matters most to me. It never has, and it never will.
I wish I could teleport every Washington teenager who loves to write to Provo, Utah, for Teen Author Boot Camp 2020, but since I can’t, I’ve gathered some of my best tips about writing on my website. Find it here: louisecypress.com/writing-tips.
Authors need resilience, practice and encouragement. You’re never too old — or too young — to write what you love.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.