Tuesday, June 17, 2014


post by Lynn

To me, attending a writing conference is analogous to jumping in a river that’s cresting at flood stage. I am swept along in the flow of presentations and workshops, and I try as hard as I can to keep my chin above water. I clutch at the hunks of information surging past, trying to fashion a raft, something I can float on in my post-conference writing life. But so much good debris bobs by and I just can’t get it all.

When the event is over, I drag my motley raft home and examine it, trying to make sense of what I’ve got.

That’s the stage I’m currently at, after the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference that took place June 7 – 9 in Sheridan.

One hunk I brought home was courtesy of Lee Gutkind who whipped through a session on creative nonfiction titled You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

A smattering from my notes:
• Story is how you tell the reader what you want them to know, without teaching, without them even knowing they are learning.
• Style/story and substance/information. You need both sides—it’s a balancing act between the two.
• The beginning of the piece should plunge the reader in and show them what’s at stake.
• Never tell the reader what they are dying to find out; dangle them on a string as long as possible.

That’s just a sprinkling of what that energetic man delivered in a presentation that zipped by, seeming much shorter than an hour and 15 minutes.

Speaking of rampaging waters, literary agent April Eberhardt talked about the flood of publishing options open to writers these days. She laid out five pathways: traditional; small press; partner publishing; assisted publishing; and self-publishing. Hybrids are joining the flow every day.

Unlike some other presentations I’ve attended on this topic, I actually came away encouraged, instead of half-drowned. April exudes optimism and you can do it-ness and I guess some of that rubbed off. The main thing is to know what your own goals are regarding publication, and become informed before you dive in. She said her goal as an agent is to help each client “publish well” and I like that attitude, because it doesn’t assume that publishing well means the same thing to everyone.

There’s something large in the underpinning of my raft, but it is mostly submerged and hard to explain. It has to do with what Wyoming author Mark Spragg talked about during his keynote speech on Saturday night. I couldn’t begin to quote him, but I listened intently to his insights, as did everyone else in the room—no small thing at a banquet—and felt buoyed by them. It had to do with recognizing the powerful effect that the written word has on us, on our ability to reach toward wisdom—not simply knowledge or diversion—and how a world full of screens and photographic images cannot replace the magic of those hours spent getting lost in a book and letting our brains extract the images from our imagination.

I’m paraphrasing outrageously here, but this unseen, inexpressible hunk of insight I got from Mark gives me something to float merrily down the stream on, especially on those occasions when I hear, or say to myself, “why does writing matter?” I could have listened to him talk about reading and writing until midnight, but Mark’s not the kind of guy to go on that long.

The examination of what I learned at this conference will continue, I know, and more insights will bobble to the surface. Next week, Susan will share some of her gleanings.


  1. Mark Spragg - my, oh, my, I'd love to hear him speak. I love his writing. And the Lee Gutkind workshop sounds great. Maybe I'll make it next year!

  2. That would be excellent to see you at WW, Inc. It's in Casper next year, early June.

  3. Thanks, Lynn. I really enjoyed this review. So inspiring!

  4. I love the advice to plunge the reader in and show them what's at stake from Lee Gutkind! As I read through contest essays that helps explain a lot about why I really like some essays and why some seem to fall flat. Even the most entertaining and engaging writing can just lead to nowhere if there's nothing at stake in the story. Thanks for sharing that!

    1. Thanks for chiming in from the contest judge point of view. Note to self: make it clear there is something at stake, right from the get-go!


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