Best-selling author speaks at Teen Writers Conference

(Photo: Jamii Freston) New York Times bestselling author Jessica Day George addresses teens from Utah, Idaho and neighboring states. She encouraged them with humor and personal experiences as a professional author.

New York Times bestselling author Jessica Day George gave writing advice to teens from Utah, Idaho and neighboring states Saturday for the sixth annual Teen Writers Conference at WSU.

The keynote speaker for the conference, George used quirky humor, nervous energy and quotes from both her viola instructor and the “Star Wars” character Yoda to motivate teens to pursue creative writing.

“You have to try, and you also have to do,” said George, combining Yoda’s maxim, “Do or do not. There is no try,” with her viola instructor’s wisdom that you always need to try.

To that end, she gave attendees a writer’s “To Do” list, and then gave them motivation to keep on trying and never give up. The author of nine books, she shared her personal experiences with failure, rejection and eventual success.

The keynote address accompanied over a dozen workshops and lectures tackling various topics such as dialogue, characterization, point of view and writers block.

The first Teen Writers Conference was held at WSU in 2009 as board members of the LDS Storymaker’s conference, led by Josi Kilpack, decided to bring their experience and passion for writing to teens.

Kilpack got the idea for the conference after seeing teens attend the LDS Storymaker’s conference. Many of the topics covered were over their heads, and she wanted to provide a venue where they could get advice more on their level.

“We realized that there was just kind of a lack of something specifically for teens, and the teens would really love this type of thing,” said Annette Lyon, the current chair of the board. “We thought, ‘Hey, let’s give it a try,’ and so we did.”

Kilpack was at first a little nervous about dealing with junior high and high school kids. She found that most of her fears were unfounded.

“We have been shocked at just how great these kids are,” Kilpack said. “The kids that come to this are very motivated to learn it. They’re very well mannered, they ask questions, they participate.”

Over the six years of the conference, Kilpack has never had any behavior issues with the teens, she said.

The conference focuses more on craft than on publication, according to Kilpack. The focus is on how to write and showing teens how they can take advantage of the numerous opportunities they can use to improve their writing.

Advice on how to submit and publish manuscripts and how to work with editors and agents can wait until they are older, the organizers said.

“We love writing. We’re passionate about it,” Lyon said. “Whether or not these kids go on to be professionals, writing is a skill they will use in any capacity in any job they will have in the future.”

While writing can apply to nearly any career situation, the conference specifically teaches how to write fiction.

The conference is for teenagers aged 13-19. Parents and teachers are not allowed, which creates a good space where attendees can interact with other people just like them.

Paige Lerwill, 17, a three-year veteran of the conference, enjoys that aspect of the conference.

“I feel like it’s a good social outlet because it’s people who are into the same things,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to meet someone who actually likes to do the same things that I do.”

Lerwill, a resident of Stansbury Park, Utah, writes fantasy, and finds that the conference helps her most in finding ways to organize her thoughts when she writes.

“Even now after three years I still go to the character workshops, so that I can know who I’m dealing with when it comes to writing,” Lerwill said.