One of our new panels in the YA Lit track at Dragon*Con this year was “Advice for Young Writers” featuring a panel of experts providing their best advice to a full room, including the largest percentage of teens in the audience we saw all weekend. The audience questions were great, the panelists were insightful and helpful, and it seemed a shame not to pass on these pearls of wisdom to those who couldn’t attend. Though most of these are not exact quotes as they come from the moderator’s scribbled notes during the panel, we hope that all the young writers out there will find something useful in this post! Feel free to offer your own advice in the comments, and pass this on.

Our panelists were Davey Beauchamp (writer/podcaster/librarian), Susan Chang (senior editor at Tor Books), Susan Dennard (author), Alan Gratz (author), Sarah J. Maas (author), Jonathan Maberry (author), and Todd McCaffrey (author).

On getting started…

  • Just start! – TM
  • Start as close to the actual story as possible. – AG
  • Allow yourself to be bad. Just put any word on the page. “A” and “The” are good starts. – TM
  • Don’t be afraid of the blank page. – SD
  • Write every day. – JM

On finding inspiration…

  • Read what you love. Write what you love. – SM
  • Keep a writing notebook. – AG
  • Write down what happens to you. – SC
  • Writing-based roleplaying games are good practice for writing characters. – SD
  • Rules for roleplaying is great practice for worldbuilding. – DB
  • Read a lot of history, for worldbuilding. – TM
  • Expose yourself to different types of storytelling. – SM
  • Watch documentaries for inspiration. – DB

On the craft of writing…

  • Learn the craft of writing, not just storytelling. – JM
  • Get a critique partner – which includes the value in doing a critique of someone else. – SM
  • Read your manuscript aloud. – TM
  • Avoid anything stylistic that will throw the reader out of the story. Otherwise, go for it. – TM
  • Fan fiction is great for practice, and thinking about worldbuilding. – TM
  • Practice worldbuilding with something you know – for example, your school. – SC
  • If something isn’t working with the way you write, try something different. – TM

On when you get stuck…

  • First, just try to finish what you’re writing. – DB
  • Always go onto the next project. Send something out and then start something new. – JM
  • Make lists as a way to interview yourself about stories. – JM

On publishing…

  • Make sure your book is finished before you query. – AG (Note: A query is when you write to a literary agent with a basic summary of your book, in hopes that they will ask to read the whole thing.)
  • Pay attention to query guidelines. – SM
  • Send novels to agents rather than to editors. – AG
  • Try Agent Query and Query Tracker to find agents. – SM
  • Publisher’s Marketplace is a good resource. – JM
  • Never pay an agent or reading fee. – SC
  • It’s always said, “Money flows to the author.” You shouldn’t be paying anything to get published. – TM
  • Self publishing may not be a good idea if you don’t want to be in the business of sales. – AG
  • Resources for short stories: Writers of the Future, Ralan, Duotrope.

And a final, overarching piece of advice from Sarah J. Maas: Always have fun while writing!

[Image Source: Tapping a Pencil / Rennett Stowe / CC BY 2.0]