The day started off with Starbucks and nerves. I couldn’t help but wonder how badly I was going to mess up—like I wouldn’t take the right notes, or my questions would be stupid, or, when I got my mountain of books signed, I would make a complete and total fool of myself.
All of those fears went away after the first panel.
These women were friendly, noticeably pleased to be present, hilarious, and so beautifully real. To meet people who have gotten you through the roughest times in your life with their art is an experience I can’t describe until you’ve had it yourself, but it has been beyond rewarding for me.
The first panel, “Pantsing vs. Plotting: How To Novel,” was phenomenal, featuring Kamilla Benko, Lindsay Ribar, Michelle Shusterman, Robyn Schneider, Susan Dennard, and Alexa Donne. It was amazing to watch how the panel shifted off-topic to deliver golden nuggets of knowledge. Every one of the panelists, minus two, were plotters. I personally would’ve guessed a more even ratio– my pantser roots were indignant. The primary discussion revolved around a debate between plotting and pantsing, and methods for each direction of novelcraft, as well as inspirational author quotes, the struggle of writing, honoring the book you wanted to write, various stages of drafting and revision, and gut instinct.
As for my favorite moments: I was thrilled to learn that, according to the panel, very few pieces of the first draft appear in the final draft. As I’ve been writing my novel I’ve personally struggled with throwing a lot away, and knowing now that I’m engaging in a common practice has lifted weight from my shoulders. “Failure is a part of your research.” Mind freaking blown. Finally, Susan Dennard ended the panel with a rendition of “Stay True to Your Heart,” which was the funniest and downright best thing I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
The next panel, YA Fantasy Worlds, featured moderator Kamilla Benko and speakers Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, Roshani Chokshi, Stephanie Diaz, and Lindsay Cummings. (Holy crap those names are huge!) The panel began with the authors discussing their favorite tropes, and they proceeded to discuss the hope, encouragement, and frame for processing the real world that fantasy gives readers. For a long while the panel discussed the importance of the “chosen one” trope and their love for it, which I found to be fascinating, as I have never enjoyed that particular trope.
And that led to some of the most beautiful literary discussion I’ve ever heard.
The authors talked about hardships overcome through fantasy, powered by the “encouragement to keep fighting” and the inspiration of “a regular person being chosen to save the world.” It was a celebration of the genre, and it was truly magnificent to listen to the passion these authors have for their genre and craft. The primary bit of gold I gleaned from this panel was to focus on detailing the big picture to make an intimate piece of art that would resonate with readers. I know this tip will help me personally with my writing.
The third panel, “Ravenclaw Your Writing,” was all about accuracy, research, and creating realism through facts. As a Ravenclaw, I was in heaven. The panelists were Mary Elizabeth Summer, Alexandra Bracken, Beth Revis, Robyn Schneider, and Alexa Donne. This seminar frequently mentioned “it” and “the thing,” which was described as the part of your novel that may not make sense without research or explanation. For example: why isn’t “it” possible, and why don’t we have “the thing.” However, the most refreshing part of this particular learning experience (minus the ideas for resources in research) was the idea that “your story always has to come first.” In essence, story prevails, and while your world should be well-researched and your characters accurately portrayed, story is the most important piece to consider, and to make a reference to something that’s only barely plausible is perfectly alright if it’s for the sake of a better story.
The fourth panel was titled “Planning your Book as a Series,” and feautured Stephanie Diaz, Tobie Easton, C.L. Gaber, Michelle Shusterman, and Mark Oshiro. I was wary of this panel, being a fan of standalones and having never truly considered writing a series myself. However, after this discussion of the beauty of series literature, I may change my mind. An idea too big for one book is gorgeous, in a strange way. They talked about character arcs and how the ending determines the beginning, middle, and everything inbetween—for each individual standalone and the series as a whole. And, of course, they mentioned pitching novels as a “standalone with series potential.” My main pull from the dialogue was this considering if the story was REALLY done. If not? Series time.
My final panel of the day was “The Art of Critique” with Alexa Donne, Mary Elizabeth Summer, and Laura Ferrel. These ladies were clearly very knowledgeable on the subject but also were close friends and thus chatty and “clique-y.” It was a little hard to deal with, but I learned so much terminology that I previously hadn’t understood, if I’d even heard of it. Different types of literary relationships were discussed, as well as different types of work performed within those relationships, like copy editing, line editing, content editing, beta reading, editing summaries, and providing useful feedback and suggestions. As a newbie to the world of asking people for help, I was terrified to learn that critique exchange was critical to the development of a writer. But hey, at least I will know what the hell I’m talking about when I critique now!
The last events of the day for me were signings, and it was simply magical. Roshani Chokshi admired my nails and was adorably humble when I called her pretty (she looks like a supermodel, I kid you not). Susan Dennard and I talked The Legend of Zelda. Lindsay Ribar told me to never give up on my writing dreams. Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings said I reminded them of a character in their book, Zenith. Victoria Aveyard and I talked about earthquakes and moving and Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Sarah J. Maas was thrilled that her book messed with my heart. Beth Revis and I discussed Science Fiction. Finally, I told Robyn Schneider that “The Beginning of Everything” was the best book I’ve read this year (which is true) and she seemed so thrilled and flattered. It absolutely made my day.
As I write this, I’m getting a bit teary-eyed. When you dream of something for so long and it finally happens, the sheer joy is impossible to describe. It’s sort of like when I wanted a horse since I was 3, and the day I got my first horse when I was 12. It’s joy like that I’ve been feeling today. I can’t wait for tomorrow, to learn more about the thing I love most and to hear more from the people who have made such a beautiful impact on my life.