Friday, December 19, 2014

Get Inked! By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

Imagine a room full of writers—heads bowed, pens gliding across paper. These writers understand the importance of networking and learning from other writers. They have given up an entire Saturday to work on their craft. They are writing poetry, memoir, fiction. Some are beginning novels, others revising them. These writers are committed and skilled. These writers are teenagers.

In South Bend, Indiana (just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Stateline) teen writers assemble each November for the Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference at Saint Mary’s College. An all-day event, Get Inked! exposes young authors to the real work of writing. By attending craft lectures and workshops which are modeled after the high caliber writing conferences available to adult writers, area teens learn that writing is hard work but fun.

This year’s conference featured Michigan author Tracy Bilen. Tracy’s young adult novels mix romance and suspense, elements which appeal to teen audiences and make her an authentic role model. Tracy’s keynote address urged teens to have the courage to keep writing. Following the keynote, local writing teacher and National Writing Project site-coordinator Mary Nicolini issued a challenge that required just such courage: A writer’s marathon.

In a writer’s marathon, prompts are solicited from attendees and collected in a box. The prompts are then drawn at random and the writers free-write on each successive topic for increasingly longer periods of time. Between sprints volunteers share their creations.

The highpoint of the conference is always the breakout sessions, which allow attendees to work in small groups under the tutelage of the visiting author. Tracy’s sessions focused on bringing scenes to life. She guided the teens through this process with an activity on building characterization through the layering of description, dialogue, and action.

You would think that a group of kids would be exhausted after writing from 8 am to 4 pm. Yet, when the last session ended, no one wanted to leave. The teens stuck around to chat with Tracy informally in the lobby.

Tracy brought a lot to this year’s Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference-- signed copies of her book (Y/A thriller, What She Left Behind), autographed bookmarks, and handouts for her talk on bringing scenes to life. The teens appreciated Tracy’s wisdom regarding the publishing process and her helpful tips on establishing a writing routine.

Tracy came armed with everything she needed to make the day a success, but ultimately it was what she left behind that made the biggest impact on the writers who attended. Tracy treated these teens like peers. She saw them the same way they see themselves—as real writers working on real projects. Because Tracy took their work seriously, they know it matters. And hopefully in the not-so-distant future, you’ll find their books on the shelves alongside authors like Tracy.

Kathy Higgs-Coulthard is a writer, a faculty member in the Education Department at Saint Mary's College, and Director of the Michiana Writers' Center. The Teen Writing Conference allows her to combine her passion for teaching with her love of writing. Her work appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life, Cleaver Magazine, and Jack and Jill Magazine

BONUS: Tracy Bilen is one of the participating authors in a huge holiday cheer giveaway through Spencer Hill Press. Find out more at her website.

A huge thanks to Kathy for contributing our final guest post in 2014! Enjoy the holidays, and we'll return in the new year. Nina Goebel is preparing to introduce our new Featured Illustrator, and Patti Richards is gathering good news to share in our New Year's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs.

Kristin Lenz


  1. Fantastic post! I've been thinking about developing a writer's conference for young people and this inspired me to move to the next level. Congrats to Tracy and Kathy!

  2. Wow, so proud of our SCBWI members. You ladies set the bar high!

  3. My two teen boys would have loved that conference. Can't wait until next year!

  4. Sounds like a great conference! And, Tracy, I'm looking forward to reading "Watch Your Back." Happy holidays everyone!

  5. What a wonderful way to encourage young writers. My daughter would love this.