By Nichole Giles
I’ve spent the majority of this week at the BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference. I’ve been to this conference twice before, and though I have come away every year feeling energized and inspired, I still had to convince myself to spend the money.
Lets face it, with the price of gas and food and everything else in the world, spending money on a writer’s conference—when I’ve already been to three this year—is somewhat difficult to justify. Still, at the end of April I held my breath and closed my eyes and jumped back in the pool. Well, figuratively. Literally, I handed over my much-used, nearly over-extended credit card and paid the fee.
And because I was so late in registering, the workshop classes I thought I’d go to were full. So, I told the woman on the other end of the phone to put me wherever she wanted—as long as it wasn’t a picture book class. And I left my class choice up to fate.
I ended up in an early reader class with author Claudia Mills. At first, I was hesitant. I have done middle grade before, but not for a long time. And I’ve never done early reader. Frankly, writing those books is very hard, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Or at least, that’s what I thought on the first day. Turns out, we have a wide range of material in our class.
Fate has a funny way of taking care of people.
While most of the people in my workshop class are beginners, others are not. The entire class is women—which is a change for me. But I’ve come to be inspired by all their vulnerability and strength, their bravery at coming to the conference and showing off their work—whatever their stage in the writing process.
One young woman in particular stands out. She’s fifteen-years old, and had to get special permission to attend the workshop. They gave it to her because she will turn sixteen next month. This girl rides her bike to the bus stop near the library, and catches the bus at 6:45 every morning, then repeats the process backwards, arriving at the bus stop—nearly two miles from her house—at 6:50 each evening. After all that, she rides her bike home. That’s dedication.
I read her first two chapters last night and was shocked and amazed. This girl is still in high school. She’s just more than a year older than my oldest son. And her work is incredible. It stands out, stands alone, and with a little bit of polish and formatting, is publishable. To me, that’s inspiring.
While wandering through the bookstore after our class today, I ran into some of the other women from my workshop group. One of them made the comment that being in class with those of us who are more advanced is intimidating to her. But I don’t want to be intimidating, and I don’t want her to be discouraged—especially because she’s a beginner at this craft.
This is what I told her. “The fact that we are here, at this conference, is big. The fact that we have all brought our work, and have shown it to each other, is huge. It means we’re serious about writing.” She nodded her head in thought. Then I said, “Don’t be intimidated just because some of us are at different levels of writing ability. Some of us have been at this for years, and some are just beginning. We all had to start somewhere.”
“That’s true,” she said.
“We all have something to offer each other, something to teach, and a different viewpoint for feedback,” I told her. “And I’m really glad we’re all here.”
And it’s true. I am. I’m so grateful for all I learn every time I come to a conference—no matter where it is or what it cost. In the end, I’m really glad to have ended up in the class I did.