Do you have an aspiring author in your family? I do.
My daughter Katie has been writing stories since she was in first grade. It is what she loves to do. As I have searched for resources to help her, I discovered writing conferences--especially those for teens. We have decided that the ones in Utah are really exceptional because it has a very unique writing culture and much to offer kids like her:
-At least five New York Times best selling authors live within 100 miles of each other: Jennifer Nielsen, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, Brandon Mull, and Brandon Sanderson.
-They live in a predominately religious community, and thus usually tend to keep their stories clean for all readers.
-Lastly, they all embrace the mentality of cooperation, not competition. They believe in helping struggling authors, teaching what they know, and giving business to each other.
As Jennifer Nielsen put it, as we were chatting with she and J. Scott Savage, "I can't write quickly enough for my readers. What takes me months to write, some people can read in a day. But if I can send them to read some of Scott's work, they are happy, he is happy, and I am taking good care of my readers." I love this mentality! Scott is also quick to send his readers to Jennifer.
Happily, most of these writers (and many others besides them) feel this way, and because of that, they put on amazing conferences for those who are wanting to learn. We value them so much, that we are willing to travel to Utah several times a year in order to participate.
Here are the conferences that we (mostly Katie, but sometimes me as well) have gone to. They are all great, are one day each and cost $75 or less.
Writing For Charity
This charity was founded by Shannon Hale, Newberry Honor medalist and NYT best selling author. All proceeds go towards supplying books for children in areas where there are very limited resources. This conference is for both teens and adults. Katie and I have gone for the past two years and have loved it. Opportunities are available to speak and pitch to agents, have your work critiqued by published authors, make connections with publishers and of course, attend a smorgasbord of classes on character development, self-publishing, plot twists, mental health and writing, writers block, writing a query letter and all sorts of other things. All authors are incredibly encouraging and the whole event is wonderful. This is the only event I have attended, so now, I'll turn the rest of the post over to Katie!
Katie, here! Hello!
I really love this conference! The authors there are so cool- they share a LOT of information and advice, and are really nice- they also think it's really cool you're there, and try to help you out. I think one reason I like this conference so much, is because they give you SO much in depth, quality information. I think my favorite class was on "Plot Twists and Turns", by Jennifer Nielsen.
Teen Author Boot Camp
I guess the first thing that I should say about this conference, was that no adults/parents were allowed. That meant that there were about 600 teenagers, with the only adults there being authors (or writers)- it made me really nervous at first, because there were a LOT more people there than I was expecting. It turned out well though- everyone was super nice, and it was easy to find a topic to talk about, since all of us there wrote.
After the welcomes and announcements, we started off with a keynote from Dan Wells (the keynote speaker changes each year). After the key note and for most of the day, they had multiple classes and/or panels going at once, about tons of different things: character development, world-building, plotting, genre, and a ton more. I'd have to say that one of my favorite classes was on world-building, by Jennifer Nielsen (can you tell that she is one of my favorites?). Lunch and four classes later, we had an ending key note from Margaret Peterson Haddix. She was our last speaker- after that, the winners of the picture and First Chapter Contest were announced (they read sections of each winning chapter out loud- it was cool to hear what some of the others had written). Afterwards, the authors were available to sign books if you wanted to buy one.
Overall, I thought it was really cool- there were SO many people interested in your craft, it was almost startling. It was cool to be able to connect and talk to published authors, and to hear what they had to say. I would say that the information was a little more dumbed down than from "Writing for Charity", but I think that was because they were aiming towards a younger audience. Overall, I'm glad I went. :)
Teen Writers Conference
The class structure was similar to other conferences- each hour, you had multiple classes that you could choose from. In the middle, we had an hour lunch- afterwards, we had a keynote by Chad Morris , He was really fun to listen to. Also, at the end, instead of another keynote, we had a Q&A panel by the authors. The questions they answered came from questions the attendees wrote down and submitted during the conference. This was pretty interesting, because you heard lots of different view points, on lots of different subjects, in a relatively short amount of time. After that, the winners of the First Page Contest were announced (the contest was really cool- everyone who submitted/participated got a written critique, even those who didn't win).
Summary: I think that writing conferences in general are really good things to go to. They expose you to more ideas and techniques, they introduce you to new people, and help give you new tools and/or ways to influence your writing. Getting the feedback that many conferences provide is really good too. I don't think there's anything to lose by going to them. I'd definitely recommend attending- they help give you new energy, vision, and determination for your writing.
Community Question: Tell us about your budding author. What does he/she love to write? Also, what other conferences are you aware of that would be appropriate for teens? We would love to expand our resources!
I remember sobbing one night. I was sitting in front of my computer tearfully and feverishly googling every "how to be a good mom" phrase I could possibly think of. I had spent all day yelling at my kids and I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West. I didn't like who I was. I knew who I wanted to be, and who it was in my nature to be, but in the everyday chaos and stress, I wasn't that person.
Eventually, my searching led me to www.powerofmoms.com, an inspired website run by April Perry and Saren Eyre Loosli, with everything you could possibly think of to help moms who are searching, just like I was. Soon after I found Power of Moms, I went to one of their retreats with a bunch of friends and it was life changing. I was so impressed, that I asked to volunteer for them.
That was a few years ago, and I have learned so much from them since then. I still have bad days, and sometimes still yell at my kids too much, but it happens less than it used to. I am more educated and realistic about what being a good mom means--especially what it means to ME. I am more aware of my kids, more organized, more deliberate in my parenting and more careful to love better.
Here is just a sampling of what they have to offer:
-Finding more joy in motherhood
-Family systems that really work
-Inspiring and educational podcasts to help you know you aren't alone
-How to get rid of clutter or How to be organized and get more done
-How to take better care of yourself, so you can take care of others.
This organization has such a wonderful heart. These women and a host of volunteers do what they do simply because they care. To them, money is not the goal--helping and empowering mothers raise the next generation with love and wisdom, is.
I am privileged to be a board member of this organization. With all of the trivial noise in the world, with all of the sickness of society, with all of the vain attention getting, it is so inspiring to be able to see the inner workings of an organization that looks higher. I really can't gush enough about this website or it's founders. Really--please take a look at this principle based approach to being a deliberate mother.
Community Question: If you have used Power of Moms, what has been your favorite resource, podcast or article?
Many people think that religion is irrelevant today. I disagree. Clayton Christensen is a Harvard professor who, in a very simple way, explains why principle based religion is important to democracy today--even for secularists.
Family Discussion Guide:
-What would happen to our society if people no longer voluntarily choose to obey laws?
-Do you agree or disagree that religion is the only way to encourage voluntary lawfulness?
-Is there a time when people should disobey laws?
-How does private virtue affect the public?
-Does our society today encourage behavior for the public good in ways outside of religion, yes or no? Give some examples.
Community Question: Do you agree or disagree with the Marxist economist?
If you don't know who Devin "Supertramp" Graham is, you are missing out on one really cool guy. He celebrates life for a living! He has put together some of the coolest videos I have ever seen of people having fun, enjoying nature, and just being goofy. Cliff diving, yo-yoing, skateboarding, human slingshots, flyboards, the list goes on and on.
Devin is super popular on Youtube, and lots of people wish they could have his glamorous lifestyle. But I love this video because he shows how much WORK goes into these videos that just look like one big party. The most successful people are often the ones who work the hardest or do what no one else is willing to do, and Devin teaches this very clearly in this video. He also encourages us to follow our dreams no matter what they are, do the hard thing, plan for the long run, and get our hands dirty. Watch this cool video and be sure to check out some of his others!
Family Discussion Guide
-How long does Devin sometimes work to get a shot of 2-4 seconds?
-Do his videos always show reality?
-What was he doing after school and on weekends while the other kids were going to parties?
-Does he love what he does? Can he make a living at it?
-What do you love? How are you learning about it/practicing it?
-Does a passion always turn into a career? Name some successful amateurs.
Community Question: What are you passionate about? Tell us about it!
It is, sadly, an all too common story. Statistically, we usually know what will happen to an African American boy who is raised in poverty by an illiterate single mom, surrounded by crime and ridiculed in school.
But this movie, Gifted Hands, is based on a true story and has an uncommon ending. Not only did this boy avoid crime, prison and addiction (things that are statistically in his future), but he became a world renowned brain surgeon and ran as a candidate for President of the United States.
How does this journey happen and how can more disadvantaged people obtain it? What was Ben Carson's secret? Well, I'll give you a hint: a determined mother, books and God.
As Ben's mom was cleaning the house of a wealthy client one day, she pondered about the difference in their stations. Eventually she realized that the difference could be boiled down to one thing: books. From that day on, Ben and his brother were obligated to read a non-fiction book and write a report about it before they could watch tv as their friends did. This small change would alter the trajectory of Ben's entire life.
As Ben grew and became a teenager, anger threatened to veer his life off course. But instead, a miracle forced him to re-evaluate his choices and their consequences. He decided to turn his life over to God and was able to find peace and hope in difficult situations. His ability to love his fellow man also helped him as he took care of his surgery patients.
I love this story. Whatever you may think of Ben Carson's political ventures and personal beliefs, no one can dispute his journey from poverty and lack of privilege to world wide professional respect and acclaim. This inspirational story shows that faith, self education, determination, hard work and, most especially a mother who takes a long view and sees the big picture, will literally work miracles.
Get this movie, watch it with your kids, and enjoy the awesome discussions your family will have!
*Note: as always, please check the content of this and other movies at www.commonsensemedia.org or kids-in-mind.com before you watch it to make sure you feel it is appropriate for your family.
Family Discussion Guide:
-What did Ben's mother do that was uncommon?
-What gave her the inspiration to have her children read more?
-What did Ben gain because he obeyed his mother by reading books and writing reports?
-How did education help Ben?
-Do you think anyone can do what Ben did? Why or why not?
-What sometimes gets in the way of bettering ourselves? How can we work around it?
-What excuses do we sometimes use to get out of doing things that are good for us?
-What is discipline? How can it help us?
Community Question: How do you inspire those around you to see what is possible?
What does love look like?
In the media, we see a lot of different representations of love. But really...they are mostly the same. We usually see a pretty woman, a handsome man, some form of drama, resolution, happily ever after and "THE END".
But what happens when tragedy strikes? Maybe the pretty woman becomes blind or suffers debilitating depression. Maybe the man can't move his body, or speak. What happens then?
I adore this song, because it is the true story of a man, his fiance and a terrible car accident 2 months before their wedding. It shows commitment, and that love is really more than what we say--it is shown in what we do. This song has become an anthem in our family and we all love it; my kids have even learned how to play it on the piano. We hope you enjoy it just as much as we do
*Spoiler: Several years after the accident, this couple did break up romantically, but they are still deeply involved in each others' lives and remain best friends. Still, I strongly believe in the principle this song teaches and feel it is worth sharing.
Family Discussion Guide:
-Why is it important to be committed in a relationship? (family, friendship. marriage)
-What is love vs. lust?
-What does being together in bad times do for a couple's relationship?
-How can you consistently show ANY one you love that you will always be there for them?
Community Question: What do you like people to do for you to show that they love you?
No, The Princess Academy is not another princess book. Well it is, but not that kind of princess book. In this Newberry Honor book, the main character does not get the Prince, while education--both mental and emotional-- are shown to be of utmost importance, and family is treasured.
Miri is often overlooked and feels unimportant. Then when the kingdom decides to hold a "Bachelor" like contest to see who gets to marry the prince (with the smartest girl winning), she and all the other girls of their rural village are forcefully sent to a Princess Academy to get an education, learn diplomacy, deportment and a host of other things. Though the competition sometimes gets catty, friendship and respect are learned, and education (NOT the prince) is shown to be the most valuable takeaway. Miri finds value in just being herself, as she is the one who is able to bring different types of people together for good, saves the other girls from danger, and ensures the future of her village.
This book is delightfully funny, sharp witted, thought provoking and sweet. I have personally met the author Shannon Hale, and it is no wonder her books are winning awards and making best seller lists everywhere. Her intelligence, wit and goodness stand out on every level. I fully recommend all of her YA books, not only for children, but adults as well!
Family Discussion Guide:
-Why does Miri feel her father doesn't love her?
-What benefits did Miri gain from her education?
-How did her education help others?
-How did Miri act as a peacemaker?
-How did she come to discover and value her unique talents?
-Why was Miri not interested in marrying the prince?
-As boys and girls spend time with each other, what do you think should come first, romance or friendship? Why?
Community Question: Which Shannon Hale book is your favorite?
Who grew up with the Standin' Tall series? Raise your hand! (Jessee and I did, and so did my husband.)
These are oldies, but goodies. I totally remember going to bed at night and having my mom turn on one of these stories for me to listen to as I went to sleep. These short audio stories, written by Janeen Brady, help kids use their imagination, learn about a value (such as cleanliness, service, gratitute, etc.), learn fun songs, and even practice reciting lines from the story as if they were the main character.
My personal favorite back in the day, was about Captain Dependable, his undoing from being around procrastin-ite, and his return to his better self. My 4 year old son's favorite story is about the Scrub-its, who help kids remember to wash, brush their teeth and take care of their body.
These easy to understand stories with catchy songs and fun, imaginative friends may just be a staple for the next generation in our family!
Community Question: Did you grow up with these? Which story was your favorite?
This is one of my absolute favorite books! (Yes, I know... I say that a lot.) Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a Newberry Medal winning book by Jean Lee Latham, and an absolutely true story--the best kind.
Nat Bowditch has dreams of attending Harvard. He loves to learn, and especially loves math. However his dreams are shattered when tragedy strikes. And in poor Nat's story, tragedy strikes a lot. I'm not going to lie--it gets kind of depressing for a while. But then! Then! While indentured to a sailing ship mercantile, an older sailor advises him to "Sail by ash breeze."
When Nat inquires what this means, he learns that when a ship is becalmed and can't move because there is no wind, sailors get out the row boats. They attach ropes from the row boats to the ship and then, with oars made from ash wood, they literally pull the great ship along until the wind picks up again. Get it--"ash breeze"? Meaning of course, that good old fashioned hard work and persistence can get you a long way.
Nat takes this phrase to heart. He works hard and by the time he has finished, he has taught himself several languages, become master of his own ship, and literally changed the future of sailing by his accurate charts and navigation system, which ended up saving hundreds, if not thousands of lives. His contribution to sailing was so monumental, that to this day, every federal ship in the United States of America is required to have his navigation textbook and charts on board.
Such a great book. It teaches kids to never give up, to work hard, not dwell in discouragement, that education is important, heck--even to like math! What more could a parent want?
Family Discussion Guide:
-Is going to school the only way to learn?
-How can we express our love to family and others while they are still living?
-What was the difference between the way Nat managed discouragement, and the way his father did?
-Why are you responsible for your life--no matter what happens?
-What does it mean to act and not react? How did Nat act?
-Why was Nat's excellence at math and his belief in himself important when he challenged the accuracy of existing charts? Why is attention to detail important?
Community Question: When horrible things have happened in your life, how do you keep going? We want some practical tips!
Elephant and Piggie books are some of our favorite picture books! Mo Willems does a remarkable job of conveying the common emotions we all have in his delightful stories and illustrations.
In I love My New Toy!, Piggie has a new toy and when Gerald (the elephant) accidentally breaks it, Piggie is NOT. HAPPY. However the story resolves itself, and in the end, both characters realize that friends are more important than toys and their friendship is restored.
Family Discussion/Activity Guide:
-Why was Piggie mad? Do you get mad when someone breaks your toys?
-Is it ok to be mad? What do we do when we are mad?
-Gerald didn't get mad at Piggie. Why?
-Why did they not play with the toy at the end of the book?
-Role play this situation and practice understanding and forgiveness.
Community Question: Which one of Mo Willems' books is your favorite?
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