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8 Tips from the Madison Writers Institute

Am writingLast weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!

My brain is now leaking.

Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!

Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.

I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good.  *grins sheepishly*

Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.

1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:

Rule #10: Keep writing.

Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.

2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:

Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?

This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.

3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:

There is powerful emotion in home.

Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.

4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:

Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.

Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

Ken Krimstein, Michael Perry, and Dale Kushner

5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:

Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.

and…

Step into your artist’s pants.

One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.

6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:

Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.

In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. 🙂

Michael Perry

7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:

 Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.

Me and Jane

Me and Jane

*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20’s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?

I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.

8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:

One word will unstick you.

First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.

That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?

 

 

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