Top Five Things I Learned at the 2015 UW-Madison Writers’ Institute




The recurring theme at the 2015 UWWI was the ever-changing publishing landscape. Quality is more important than ever. Writers must become business owners/entrepreneurs in order to hope to make a living. But a quality book is the keystone. Without it, success is impossible. So my first job as a writer is to write the absolute best books I can write.

Five things I learned:

  • Customers are gained one at a time by personal engagement, not by mass market tactics such as blog posts, spammy email marketing letters, constant Facebook presence, or ten tweets per day.
  • The best way for me to construct a novel will be to start with a great logline, expand that to a query letter, expand that to a short synopsis, then a longer, detailed synopsis, then create an outline from that, then write the first draft. It may take more time initially before words reach the first drafts, but I hope to avoid false starts generated by flawed story ideas, characters, themes, and plots.
  • Incorporate Breath Awareness and simple meditation into my daily schedule. (I’m having trouble with that one, but this blog will be my wake-up call. I will commit to twenty-one consecutive days of one-minute meditation. See Irene McFarland below.)
  • Being a writer today means you have to be an entrepreneur. The days of publishing houses doing all the editing, designing, promoting, marketing, and selling of your books gets rarer by the day, and is only available to the A-list bestselling authors. My book is a commodity that I can choose to sell or not. There’s no limit to how many I can sell, but no one will sell it for me.
  • I don’t suck at writing! I received great encouragement from an instructor who evaluated my first ten novel pages and told me that with work and revision my writing is “publishable.” That doesn’t guarantee my success, but it tells me I’m improving, which is all one can hope to do when attempting to master any art form.

Presenters who impressed me with either their writing talent, industry savvy, charm or sage advice.

John Dufresne- Gave the keynote address this year. His talk was packed with common sense and sage advice. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. “Ass in chair” is the only way to get anything written. If you suffer from chronic writer’s block, then quit writing and do something else. Not all are meant to be successful writers.

Ann Garvin-The woman could do standup comedy and do it well. Impossible not to like her, she also is an engaging speaker and communicates well. Two quotes of hers that will stay with me for a long time are: “No tears for the writer=no tears for the reader,” and “Every sentence is an audition for the next sentence.”

Jesse Stommel- An expert in social media, his great piece of marketing advice is: “The best way to build followers is to follow people.” To clarify, marketing yourself is about generating interest in you and your books. People are deluged with information, stimulation from all sorts of social media. They won’t buy my book just because I ask them to, or because they follow me on Twitter or Facebook or via my blog or email newsletter. They buy my book because I show interest in them as people, build a relationship with them in some way, make them curious to read my writing because they’ve gotten to know me just enough to be intrigued. Even though the internet allows us to communicate instantly with everyone, books are still sold one at a time.

Irene McFarland- “Breath Awareness” and simple meditations such as sitting quietly for a minute or more contemplating an object can refocus your mind almost as well as any other focusing exercise or technique. Focusing allows a writer to write freely and well and overcome the constant distractions of daily life.

Laurie Scheer- The Director of the Writers’ Institute. She gave a talk on the last morning. Her message was master your genre, but then try to write the genre-changing book rather than just settling for getting one book published. Add something to a genre to make it unique so your writing will stand out from the crowd. The takeaway for me was don’t limit myself to what I think is possible or what I “should” do.

A Neo-Renaissance practitioner is always learning. This is my fourth UWWI conference. Many of the sessions I’ve attended in those four years are on similar topics, but even if you think you know a subject very well (such as self-editing) there are always new things to learn, or maybe a speaker explained something that you didn’t understand or connect with before in such a way that you had an aha! moment.

What have you struggled to understand until someone explained it in a way that gave you an aha! moment?




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