YALLFest and Writing Friends

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since the start of my long Weekend of Writerly Wonderfulness – time really does fly when you’re having fun!
YALLFest was this past Saturday, and my critique group the Sisukas (Kathleen Fox, Rebecca Petruck, and Debra Rook) decided to turn the weekend into a writing retreat. We rented a house from Friday to Tuesday so we could cocoon in and concentrate on writing and giving feedback on our current projects.
Sisukas YALLFest Retreat 2013
The weekend kicked off on Friday night with a pre-YALLFest dinner with the Sisukas and other writer friends who were in town for YALLFest. It was an evening of great food and even better company, giving me the chance to catch up with old writer friends (Jillian Utley and Laura Moss) and to meet new ones (Jamie Hoffman and Jasmine Warga). It was so fun I hope to make it an annual pre-YALLFest tradition!
Bright and early Saturday morning was the actual big event. And when I say big, I mean BIG. First of all, check out the list of 50 kidlit authors on the panels, many of them New York Times Bestsellers – impressive. Then the turnout was huge this year – so big I wasn’t able to find writer friends in the crowd like I have done in the past. This is an awesome thing to see for Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, and the YA writing/reading community. 
It’s both intimidating and inspiring to attend YALLFest. On the one hand, when I see the authors up on stage, they are so poised, clever, and funny that I don’t think I could ever be like them. But then they share stories of how they struggle with characters or setting or getting their butts in the chair, and I see that it’s hard work for them, too, which makes it all seem more attainable. I really appreciate all of them sharing their insight and wisdom.
A huge thanks to Jonathan Sanchez, Margaret Stohl, and all the others who worked so hard to put together this incredible festival that brings together so many readers and writers. Also, I did a guest post on Kami Kinard’s blog with some of the comments that resonated with me, so click here for more scoop from this year’s YALLFest
With my head and heart stuffed full of awesome YALLFest inspiration, it was time to get down to the working part of the weekend. We interspersed writing and critiquing, and I was super nervous waiting for my feedback. This was the first time that the rewrite I recently finished was getting comments from other writers, plus I really respect not only the writing talent of these ladies but also their knowledge of the business side of publishing and the YA audience, so my stomach was in knots when it was my turn.
Fortunately it went great! Not only great in that they really liked it and think it’s pretty close to query ready, but also in that they had great suggestions for some tweaks to strengthen it. I’m still waiting for feedback from a few other beta readers, plus I’m focusing on NaNo for the rest of November, but my plan is make changes in December to be ready to query in January. New Year’s Resolution indeed!
There was also a lot of writing accomplished during the retreat – all of us were hard at work on projects at various stages. Mine was my NaNo novel, which is off to a rocky start, but at least it’s now finally started!
Then to cap off everything, I had lunch with Martina Boone on Tuesday. I met Martina through her blog, and she was also in town for YALLFest and for some other book-related projects. Although slightly concerned about being murdered by a stranger I met on the internet (hooray for overactive imaginations!), I was delighted to discover that Martina is just as lovely in person as she is online. YALLFest is an awesome event in and of itself, but I think I love it most for giving me the chance to socialize in person with writing friends.
It really was a wonderful weekend of writing activities. Writing is hard work. Really hard work. But as we sat around at meals brainstorming, I watched people’s good ideas turn into great ones, and when I closed my eyes and listened to clicking keyboards as friends created worlds and characters as we wrote in front of the fireplace, well, in those moments it felt a little less like work and a lot more like magic.
Were you able to make it to YALLFest? What were your favorite parts? Do you find that writing retreats inspire you? Aren’t writing friends the best?!?
You can read about the first two YALLFests here and here.
Also check out the interviews I hosted with YALLFest authors:
Cinda Williams Chima                       Lauren Oliver
CJ Lyons                                          Sean Williams
Rainbow Rowell                                Ransom Riggs
Veronica Rossi                                  Kami Garcia
Melissa de la Cruz                             Shannon Hale
Lisi Harrison                                     Michelle Hodkin
Lisa McMann                                    Jocelyn Davies