13 Things I Learned at the UW Writers’ Institute


As a Neo-Renaissance practitioner (Neo Ren), I’ve developed a philosophy over the years when it comes to taking courses of any sort. Remember, a Neo Ren is one who is a life-long learner. One of my philosophies of life is, the more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know.

My goal when taking a class, workshop, or seminar, whether I pay for that education or not, is to come away with at least one solid fact, usable piece of knowledge, a tangible skill, a means to improve what I already can do, or an inspiration that propels me onward and upward. With that in mind, I give you my list of the 13 best things I learned last weekend at the 25th Annual Writers’ Institute Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

  • A good logline has four elements: Originality, Plausibility, Inherent Conflict, Gut Emotional Appeal. From Donald Maass via instructors Laurie Scheer and Angela Rydell.
  • The most important of Nathan Bransford‘s “10 Commandments for the Happy Writer” is KEEP WRITING.
  • Kimberli Bindschatel says hire a professional to design your book cover when self-publishing. It’s too important to leave to an amateur (such as myself).
  • Home is many things to many people and can be the source of powerful emotions. From Roy Hoffman.
  • Christine DeSmet taught me to use the “Rule of Three” to solve many of my plotting problems.
  • Dale Kushner stressed the importance of writing about subject matter that interests us.
  • Using humor to free up one’s writing can do wonders for even a serious story, according to Ken Krimstein.
  • Michael Perry is a charming, brilliant storyteller who advises staying true to oneself.
  • Designing a book is extremely complicated and best left to a professional when self-publishing according to Kristin Mitchell and Dana Gevelinger. They convinced me!
  • Celeste Anton showed me several things I can do to improve my website. Most amazing—I can schedule publication of blog posts in advance. Who knew??
  • Kimberli Bindschatel convinced me that marketing one’s self-published book is NOT asking or begging readers to buy your book. It is seven times harder to sell a book to a stranger than it is to ask a friend or follower to buy it. So cultivate friends, fans of your writing, and followers. They are your target market.
  • Marilyn Atlas gave me many excellent suggestions for creating three-dimensional characters who are memorable and non-stereotypical. The standout idea here is to figure out the character’s wound—the one thing with which the character won’t allow him/herself to be identified.
  • Jane Friedman confirmed and expanded on the fact that book publishing is undergoing a metamorphosis and savvy authors who are quick to adapt to changing business models will succeed.

The instructors were outstanding and the facilities and logistics were first-rate. I came home inspired to write more, write smarter, write inspired prose. Congratulations on 25 years, UW Writers’ Institute. I’ll see you next year.

My question to you: What’s your strategy for learning when you attend a class, workshop, or seminar? Attended any exceptional conferences or conventions?


0 thoughts on “13 Things I Learned at the UW Writers’ Institute”

  1. It sounds like an inspiring time, Chris! And it’s a great reminder to writers of all genres and experience levels that workshops can be worth the while and full of needed advice! I can’t wait to read the new things that will come of this!

  2. It was, Jody. I’m on day three of a disciplined (for me!) writing schedule– one hour per day, or 500 words minimum, which ever comes first. Had to write my 500+ at 9:30 last night, but I did it. Also wrote down a bunch of other goals to accomplish in 2014. Had one baby success in 2013, hoping for at least two this year.


  3. Reading these suggestions made me feel good about myself: originality, humor, gut emotional appeal and conflict. I included those in my last short story I think. I will keep my fingers crossed.
    Nice post.

  4. Julia,

    I also heard a lot of success stories during that conference. The ones who succeeded are the ones who never gave up. I’m rooting for you, too. If I help another author to succeed (whatever that means to them), then I help myself in a small way, too.


  5. Sounds like we were in some of the same classes. I would’ve liked to hear Celeste speak but I wasn’t sure if her class would go beyond the basics. If you have more notes I’d love to hear them!

    Glad you enjoyed the conference! Had you been before? I had attended once 3 years ago and they’ve added a lot in that time. Very impressive.

  6. Hi Jess,

    This was my 4th UWWI conference. Thought I’d only been to the last three, somehow forgot about the first one. It has improved every year, i.m.o. I sent you an email with some notes about the Celeste Anton website seminar I attended so we don’t bore any of our other blog fans. 😉


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