YA Writer? All You Need is Chapter One

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Ch1 Con banner on Newbie Writers GuideHey, guys! My name is Julia Byers and I’m the founder of the Chapter One Young Writers Conference, an annual writing conference for and by teens and young adults.

Our 2015 conference will take place Saturday, August 8th at the Courtyard Chicago Arlington Heights/South hotel in Arlington Heights, IL, a northern suburb of Chicago. Our speakers include Kat Zhang, author of the YA dystopian trilogy The Hybrid Chronicles (HarperCollins), renowned freelance editor Taryn Albright of The Girl with the Green Pen, and YA/NA author Ava Jae, whose debut Beyond the Red (Sky Pony Press) will come out in Spring 2016.

I’ve been writing for nearly my whole life, and writing seriously for at least half of it. So my “newbie writer” days technically took place back when I was, like, six. But I still feel like a newbie a lot of the time—and I know I especially did during my teen years.

Writing is a constant learning process, no matter how much experience you have. So, I figured since I’m on Newbie Writers today and I run a writing conference for teenagers, I’d share some of the things I wish someone had said to me back when I was in high school.

Make mistakes. When I was first starting out, I was terrified of making mistakes, and that can be paralyzing. It’s awesome to write a crappy first draft if it means you might be able to turn it into something you love in the second, or third, or tenth draft. It’s awesome to write the plot twists and character arcs that daunt you. It’s awesome to fail—as long as you learn from what went wrong and pick yourself back up again.

Follow your gut. It can be tempting to chase the latest trends in the publishing industry, but fun fact: That is a terrible idea. For several reasons.

  1. Chances are, by the time you’ve finished your trend-chasing novel, the trend will have passed/the industry will already be saturated with other novels also chasing that trend.
  2. Unless you happen to already really love whatever the trend is (be it dystopia, or vampires, or magical boarding schools), your writing isn’t going to turn out as well as it could. By writing about something you adore instead of chasing trends, your writing will have so much more heart and passion to it—and yes, agents/publishers/readers can tell.
  3. Do you really want to be following in someone else’s footsteps? Yes, it might be easier to sign with an agent and subsequently sell a novel if it aligns with a current trend in the industry, but would you rather write the novel that’s “just another Hunger Games rip-off” or write something new and exciting that creates a trend?

Explore. Don’t restrict yourself to writing one genre, or for one age group, or even to only writing novels. Try out different styles, POVs, and types of plots and characters. My novels are generally YA thrillers that are more commercial than literary, but as a creative writing major in college I’ve had to learn to write literary, realistic short fiction. And it’s crazy how much doing that kind of writing has helped my other types (and how much I’ve found I enjoy doing it, when it was something I refused to even try pre-formal creative writing education).

Make friends. Publishing is all about connections, and beyond that, having friends who are into writing is really honestly good for your mental health. I don’t know how I would survive all the rejections, and late nights revising sessions, and never-ending first drafts without my critique partners. Writer friends just get it in a way other friends can’t. Plus, having writer friends to celebrate successes with makes those successes all the sweeter.


You have so many options for meeting other writers. Most of my friends I met online through writing forums, social media, or blogs like this one. (Twitter especially is great, along with WriteOnCon’s forums during their annual online conference.) And, of course, another way I’ve met some fantastic people is at writing conferences. I’ve been attending conference since my junior year of high school and I still talk with a girl I met at that very first one four years ago.

Before the rest of the Ch1Con team and I started putting on writing conferences together, we were just some kids who met online and happened to like to critique each other’s writing and fangirl over books together. I’m so, so proud of how far we’ve come as friends, critique partners, and collaborators. Writers can do amazing things when they join forces.

Take your own path. If only one of my tips sticks with you, make it be this one. Don’t worry about what other writers are doing. Don’t worry about making it to publication by a certain age or draft number. Don’t be envious of another writer’s successes, or bitter when you know you’ve put in more work than a friend yet his/her novel is better than yours, or whatever it might be. Comparisons are poisonous. Trust in yourself and your writing. If you put in the work and love and patience, you’ll get there someday.


If you’re a writer from middle school to undergraduate age (approximately twelve to twenty-two) and are interested in attending and/or learning more about the conference, you can check us out at the links below:

Website: Chapter One Young Writers Conference

Twitter: @Ch1Con

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Thanks to Newbie Writers for hosting this stop on our blog tour!

The Chapter One Young Writers Conference. Every story needs a beginning. This is ours.

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