Alyssa Capel ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
For many young (and young at heart) book fans, the annual Boston Teen Author Festival is a bit like seeing a bunch of movie stars speak, then getting to meet them and have them sign their work. The event, held September 26 at the Cambridge Public Library, saw a large group of Young Adult (YA) authors come together to offer their knowledge of the writing and publishing process to fans and aspiring authors. One of the first panels was “Author Friendships + Critique Groups.” Attendees eagerly gathered in the large meeting room at the library, excited to hear from their favorite writers. During the panel eight authors fielded questions about the value of having a friend group of fellow authors, how critique partners operate, and where to find like-minded people in the writing community.
The panel started off with a question about the writing process in general. The writers shared various facts about the way that they work, such as the value of outlining versus “pants-ing” or jumping into writing without a clear plan. According to Lori Goldstein, author of Becoming Jinn, an extensive eighty-page outline cut drafting time to only two months from her previous novel’s three years of work (and preserved her sanity in the process). Others shared miscellaneous facts—Dhonielle Clayton, co-author of Tiny Pretty Things, expressed a preference for pen and paper writing over digital, laughingly calling herself a “turtle”. Her co-author Sona Charaipotra said that she writes exclusively on the computer, and rather quickly.
Next was a question about the nature of critique or author friend groups. The panelists themselves comprised three of these groups—two groups of three and one co-author pair. This was apparent at the start of the panel, when the moderator waited patiently for three of the authors to stop chatting among themselves (one of these authors continued to be a disruptive force throughout the session, much to the audience’s entertainment). Each group had a story of how they had all met – one via a debut authors group, one over Twitter messages and others met in an MFA program where they bonded over the experience of writing the only characters of color in their class. A distinction was made between author friendships which act more like support groups and outlets to rant about the publishing journey, and critique partnerships or groups which are formed between writers for the purpose of reviewing each other’s work and refining their craft. Author of The Secrets We Keep, Trisha Leaver, noted the value of having multiple critique partners who cater to different facets of writing (characterization, plot, etc.). Following this the authors gave suggestions for finding other writers with whom to exchange work or discuss writing and publishing. A few brought up writing workshops, programs, and classes as an easy way to meet potential critique partners. One of the authors cited the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) community as an invaluable resource for connecting with other writers. The society operates chapters regionally throughout the world; events include conferences and workshops, and each chapter plays host to groups for writers.
The last ten minutes of the panel were designated to queries from the audience. Subjects included the fear of sharing work, which More Happy Than Not author Adam Silvera pointed out, in signature cheeky fashion, can best be overcome by sharing one’s work in workshops or classes, the possibility of juggling simultaneous projects (it was confirmed that it is very much possible), and the challenges of writing characters of color; these include being forced to italicize foreign words and having to provide explanations that combat the normalization of these characters and their experiences.
The “Author Friendships + Critique Groups” panel highlighted the importance of writers having fellow artists to learn from and lean on. In addition to informing about their own experiences with author friends and critique partners, those involved suggested resources for finding these groups, provided miscellaneous writing advice, and offered humorous anecdotes from their journeys of bringing books to life.