Time for a recap of my experience with Ch1Con this year! I've got so much to say about all of this.
Let's begin way back at the very beginning. Some of you know that, from age 12 to 18, I was a member of the Scholastic Write It boards, a heavily moderated community for young writers where we shared our writing and discussed the writing/editing/publishing process. At the time I was a member, the boards had a really great regular membership, especially in the Novel section. I made a number of incredible friends there whom I love more than I can express, including Julia Byers, who is my best writing friend and critique partner to this day. I got the chance to experience a real writing community full of camaraderie, and I also learned a whole lot about writing, editing, and publishing. Without the Write It boards, I would not be where I am today, and I would be missing out on what bloomed into a beautiful set of friendships.
As the Write It regulars grew older and began to find each other on social media, we became eager to meet each other in person. So in 2012, Julia put together a little private conference for us Write Iters. I was unable to attend in person, but I spoke at it via video chat.
Because of the success of the meet-up, Julia decided she wanted to make it into a full public conference where young writers could meet together, a writing conference run by teens for teens. After tons of legal stuff and more legal stuff and monetary stuff and legal stuff, she finally was able to set up the Chapter One Young Writer's Conference, to have its first official event in summer 2014 in Chicago. We had dates ready nine months in advance, at which point I started raising money so that I could attend.
As we got closer to the conference dates, it became clear to me I wouldn't be able to raise enough money. So I informed Julia I couldn't attend and sat back to watch the conference come more and more into place. As time passed, I became more and more involved in that process, until finally, in early May, Julia gave me the official title of Associate Online Administrator and told me to go forth and make a blog tour.
Though I've done a lot of research into publicity for my future writing career, I'd never before done something real like this. It was stressful for me, but in a good way, because I was learning something I knew was useful and productive. Mostly, I just kept thinking that I was way too young to be taken seriously in business, which is kind of a counterproductive thought, but it felt so weird to be contacting people I didn't know for a big official blog tour.
As I promoted the conference, looking at all the cool things we had set up and the fact that we had Amy Zhang as our headliner (!), I just couldn't stand thinking about everyone going without me. So I went back and looked at my funds, recalculated the costs, and realized that, thanks to some money from my grandpa, I did have enough for the trip if I went by train rather than plane.
Julia immediately put me on as a speaker, doing a workshop on Sunday about novel openings. So in the midst of all my promotion work, I now also had to do trip planning. That was extra stressful, but also extremely educational. I was learning so much, and the conference hadn't even started yet!
In the days leading up to the conference, I put together my workshop, which involved me reevaluating all my novel openings and realized that I have an awful habit of using the first-day-of-school trope. I gathered a few ARCs I had for giveaways. I freaked out about getting to meet my Write It friends and Amy Zhang. I helped Julia put together part of an advertising plan to help make next year's conference even more successful. I did a speaker interview for the Ch1Con blog, which you can read here.
Then it was time for the conference, and I was just about ready to die from excitement.
So Mom and I, with our bags, headed to a nearby city, where we struggled to find parking and then realized we were 2 1/2 hours early for the shuttle. That upset me a bit, but sitting there turned out to not be that bad after all. I had fun watching all the rich people at the Hilton. Finally, the shuttle picked us up, and we went to the Lamy Amtrak station, where we only had to wait a bit before the train came. We were on our way!
The train ride was actually probably one of the nicest ways I've traveled long-distance, despite the bathrooms being totally icky. It was also extremely interesting because of the people on it. Our car was populated primarily by two groups: a bunch of Taiwanese kids on exchange and a group of Amish people heading home. I had never met anyone in either of those groups before. The most interesting part of the ride, however, was the guy in front of us, who spent the entire 25-hour ride talking to himself.
Finally, we arrived in Chicago, which for me was a massive culture shock. Before this trip, the furthest east I'd been was Denver, and that's probably the biggest city I'd been to, too. Seeing the contrast of that enormous Chicago skyline by the crumbling ghettos, it was unlike anything I'd ever known. Then there was how green and wet everything was! As I waited in Union Station for Julia and her mom to come get us, I was overwhelmed by the largeness and loudness of everything, and after having been on a moving train for 25 hours, I was super dizzy. I also found it hard to breathe in the humidity.
So my first couple of hours in Chicago weren't the most pleasant. This was compounded by me feeling stressed about meeting the Write Iters because I was afraid I'd be a disappointment in person as opposed to my online self. But finally, those of us in Chicago for the evening made it to Panera for food, and food always makes me feel better. Plus, Julia was so super nice to me, and having known her so long despite having never met her in person, I felt a lot more comfortable around her than I would around most people.
As soon as we got food, Julia and I went to my hotel room to record the podcast that concluded our blog tour. Neither of us had done a podcast before, and it was a very interesting experience. I think it went better than I'd actually expected. You can listen to that podcast here. After that, we had a little time to finish eating, during which we got into a discussion about writing and school and basic young writer things, which calmed me down so much. Julia is just a wonderful person, and it made me wish I could make friends with more people before having to actually meet them, just because my OCD has so much problem with physical human beings. But with Julia, after having known her for eight years, her physicality was a surprising bonus rather than something stressful. (Also, incidentally, she is even prettier in person.) To the right is the one and only picture I took during the conference, of Julia and I eating just after we recorded the podcast. We are beautiful children. (Also, I love Panera.)
Then all of us Write Iters spent some time just hanging out. I went to bed excited for the actual conference to start the next day. We started setting up around eight the next morning, and it was a little more complicated than I'd expected, but finally, we had everything together. All our attendees and speakers were there in person, including Amy Zhang and Patrice Caldwell. I was nervous that the casual nature of our conference would be off-putting to Amy, but we all ended up having a ton of fun and getting off topic a lot. This involved a lot of book analysis, school talk, and general writing mayhem. It was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever experienced. The speakers, too, were fantastic. But the community feeling of it, I think, was the best part: getting to be with other young writers who have interests so similar to mine. I also got to do a live panel with Amy and Patrice, which was the coolest! You can watch that here.
After the sessions for the day, we said goodbye to a some of our attendees and then went on to plan our touristy trip into Chicago. I'll be honest, I knew nothing about Chicago before this trip, and I still really don't know much. I'm also not much of a touristy person. I just wanted to be able to spend more time with those lovely wonderful people I felt so blessed to have met.
We went into downtown via the El, which was my first subway experience, and headed to Millennium Park. Being in the city didn't freak me out anymore, but it was amazingly different. It felt like someone had shot a growth ray at all of the buildings. I also have never seen so many stores in my life. Also, homeless people. Walking to the park was really frustrating to me, though, what with the fibromyalgia, and I ended up in tears. The others went on ahead, except for my mom and one of the girls, and I managed to calm down. My fibro usually isn't a big deal these days, but then, I'm a homebody who doesn't do much. Walking through a city is an unusual experience for me.
We saw the Bean, which I admired from a distance. Then we went to the face fountain things, and then we finally got food, which, again, always helps me a lot. I was able to head back to the El and continue my conversations with the others in a better state of mind.
The next day was much more low-key, a smaller set of workshops that included my own. We continued to get way off topic a lot, but Julia's query workshop, especially, was very helpful. Then, last minute, Julia's mom decided we could all go into Chicago for a little driving tour before she would drop me and my mom off at Union Station.
It was really awesome, mostly because it meant I got more time with the Write Iters who were left, but also because it was nice to see the city. If there's one thing I did want to see, it was Lake Michigan, because I absolutely love water. And I got to run in and get my shoes covered in it for approximately half a minute before we had to go to the station! Then I awkward-hugged my friends over the car seats, and then we were in Union Station and it was over. My heart hurt so much from missing everyone already. It was magical, being able to find this great group of friends in people I'd never actually met before, and just... the experience was amazing.
The train ride back was pretty normal, and now I'm home, back to talking to my friends over Skype and other Internet things. But I know I'll see them again someday. I'm hoping I'll be able to raise enough to go again next year, but if not, there are so many other ways we can meet, and I'm so glad to have the memories of this experience!
Some other observations:
There you have it, my summary of my Ch1Con experience this year! If you're a young writer and want to attend next year, we've got a blog, a Twitter, and a Facebook and we would love to have you. Right now, we're running a poll for what weekend to hold Ch1Con 2015, so vote here for the weekend(s) that work for you!
Thanks for reading.
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Images via Ch1Con and amyzhangwrites.com.
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