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Teen Authors Boot Camp provides inspiration for young people in love with words

The Write Stuff

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Writing is a lonely endeavor, but inspiration is often a crowded room. A combination of the two can lead to magical places.

Founders of the Teen Author Boot Camp have been providing a crowded room of inspiration for teenage writers for a decade. Today, the writers’ conference, held each year at the Utah Valley Convention Center, is one of the largest gatherings of aspiring writers in the nation.

The conference began as a simple idea by strangers who met while searching for their own inspiration on the craft of writing. Jennifer Jenkins, Tahsha Wilson, Jo Schaffer and Margie Jordan attended the same community writing course in 2009. The course, conducted by J. Scott Savage and sponsored by Spanish Fork City, found the women seeking inspiration gathered in the same room.

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At the conclusion of the writing course, Jenkins was reluctant to let go of the experience.

“We were a bunch of strangers in this room together. I threw out my email and suggested we start a writers’ group,” she said.

Initially, the writers’ group considered different possibilities to pass on the inspiration they had received in the course presented by Savage. The women in the group were all aspiring writers at the time, and they knew they were not alone.

“We wanted to give it back; pay it forward, what Jeff (Savage) had done for us,” Jenkins said.

They considered a first chapter writing contest for teenagers, and then decided to take the leap and try something bigger. Jenkins, who is a graduate of Utah Valley University with a degree in History and Secondary Education, returned to her alma mater with a challenge.

“Looking back, I was really audacious. I went to UVU continuing education and said I think you need us. We want to put on a conference for teen writers. They said, let’s try it.”

What started as a simple idea by event founders to share some of the inspiration they had been given has blossomed into an annual capacity crowd of young authors gathering to share their love for the written word.

And with that, Teen Author Boot Camp became a reality; an annual writers conference for teenagers only, with guest speakers and breakout sessions designed to inspire. In its first year 140 young people attended, and the organizers of the event were awestruck. Since then, the conference has only grown in popularity and attendance. Now, the event draws a capacity crowd, with 1,000 aspiring teenage writers attending. The conference has since outgrown spacing requirements at UVU and is now held at the Utah Valley Convention Center.

One hard and fast rule for the event that hasn’t changed is that it is for teenagers 13-19 only. No adults allowed.

“We want the teens to feel like this is their event, to be able to be themselves. It’s so addictive to see the impact. They have a place where they can interact. A lot of kids aren’t into sports, they don’t want to be on the cheer squad. They love words,” Jenkins said.

Looking back on how the conference has grown over the years, the founders of the event are overwhelmed with the support they receive not just from attendees, but publishing houses, local businesses, and authors. Best-selling authors speaking fees can be thousands of dollars, but the non-profit (where no one in the organization takes a paycheck) has never had to bear the cost.

“There are some great publishing houses that have gotten behind this conference. We’ve never paid an author to speak. They fly themselves out and waive their fees,” Jenkins said.

During the conference, teens 13-19 have the opportunity to share ideas and learn from established authors tips on improving their craft.

J. Scott Savage, who inspired them with his writing course, has presented at Teen Author Boot Camp every year.

Book donations arrive at Jenkins house in a steady flow and there are boxes of them piled in her garage, much to the consternation of her husband, Clint. Many of the donations come by way of LitJoy Crate. King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City has been instrumental in helping the conference attract keynote speakers.

For Jenkins and the founders of the Teen Author Boot Camp, the desire to pass on the inspiration they received returned tenfold. Some of the teens that have attended the conference have gone on to get literary agents and publishing deals. 

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