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?


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