Writing Is a Lonely Business: The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

by Rebecca Rice Birkin

Moderator’s Note: Dawning of a Brighter Day welcomes guest blog posts such as this on topics related to Mormon literature and literary criticism. For more information, email Jonathan Langford, AML blog coordinator, at jonathan AT motleyvision DOT org.

Writing is a lonely profession, cliché but true. Who won’t admit to checking their inbox for the seventh time in thirty minutes? However, one area writers should and need never be lonely is in perfecting their craft.

Some time ago, I wrote a novel. A very, very bad novel, mainly because I wrote it alone. But then I found out about the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference (WIFYR).

Like many LDS writers, one reason I like children’s fiction is that the market is more accepting of writing that doesn’t swear or include graphic scenes. (I said tends to — I know there are YA books offering plenty of gratuitous content.) And I’m not the only one — the list of LDS writers excelling in the national children’s book market is too long to list here.

Many of these same writers are faculty at WIFYR. The five-day conference consists of four hours of morning workshop, followed by afternoon classes. Writers and illustrators can also choose to attend the afternoon sessions. My experience at this conference has literally changed my writing.

AE Cannon led my workshop that first year. As the small group of writers gathered around the oblong table each day, I gained from reading others’ manuscripts as well as from having my own pages critiqued. In the Plenary sessions I heard from agents and editors about the business of writing and what they, personally, were looking to publish. I went to many classes by terrific instructors. For example, I remember Newbery Honor Winner Shannon Hale unrolling her laminated rejection letters down the length of the classroom. I left feeling encouraged to write in a way I never did when sitting alone at my computer.

I made WIFYR something I looked forward to each year, going as often as possible. Martine Leavitt was another favorite workshop author. A winner of numerous awards, she also brought her experience as a MFA professor, teaching me in one week what would have taken me years — or never — to learn alone. And last year Alane Ferguson, another terrific teacher, dramatically changed how I look at my first five pages.

I said I went as often as possible. To clarify, one year I waited too long, and all the morning workshops had completely filled. Now I head to the website as soon as registration opens.

The conference soon outgrew its facility at BYU. Holding the conference at The Waterford School in Sandy, Utah gives WIFYR the chance to offer twelve morning workshops with twenty hours of instruction each. The award-winning faculty includes:

  • Sharlee Glenn (Beginning Writer class)
  • Trudy Harris (Picture Book class)
  • Kristyn Crow (Picture Book class)
  • Kevin Hawkes (Illustration class)
  • Mike Knudson (Chapter Book class)
  • Claudia Mills (Middle Grade Novel class)
  • Emily Wing Smith (Beginning Young Adult Novel class)
  • Louise Plummer (Young Adult Novel class)
  • Holly Black (Fantasy Novel class)
  • Kathleen Duey (Advanced Novel class)
  • Martine Leavitt (Advanced Novel class)
  • A.E. Cannon (Boot Camp class)

In attendance are editors Alyson Heller from Aladdin Books and Lisa Yoskowitz from Disney. The agent is Mary Kole from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and the keynote speaker is New York Times Bestseller Ally Condie, author of MATCHED.

This year I get the chance to assist Mike Knudson, who has perfected the art of writing chapter books for boys. He’s also a master at marketing strategy. I look forward to learning from Mike and our workshop group — a welcome respite from writing alone.

Slots for this year’s conference are still available for the following classes: Beginning writing, picture book, illustration, chapter book, middle grade novel, and beginning novel. A very limited number of spots are left in Kathleen Duey’s advanced novel class. To register, go to www.wifyr.com. Questions can be directed to writingforyoungreaders@gmail.com.

Rebecca Rice Birkin has written for the The New Era, Segullah and Meridian Magazines, The Wasatch Wave, and The Courier. She has a law degree but prefers to spend her time travelling with her family and writing children’s books.

This entry was posted in Children's Lit corner, The Writer's Desk, YA corner and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Writing Is a Lonely Business: The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    Makes me wish that I were there and could participate. On the other hand, what I *really* need is to take a stab at my own stories first to see what I can do with where I’m at right now, then see what I can learn from others…

  2. Darlene says:

    I’m also a big fan of the conference. Nothing has helped me more in terms of seeing myself as a serious writer. People who want to be published in the YA, MG or PB markets are doing themselves serious disservice if they miss the opportunity to attend this fantastic conference.

    All that said, I sure wish they would avoid bringing back the same agents who’ve come before. It’s a loss of an opportunity for those of us who attend multiple years to have access to a greater variety of agents. (It’s a bummer when the agent who’s there has already seen your stuff.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>