A Look Back: The 27th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference & Workshop

The 27th Annual Western Reserve Writers Conference & Workshop took place on September 25 at Lakeland Community College. I participated as a presenter and a student.

Mystery writer and musician Don Bruns spoke on the importance of networking with writers and editors at conferences in his keynote address, “Writing the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.” He also treated us to a musical tribute:

After the keynote, I attended “Mastering the Memoir,” taught by one of my favorite writers, Erin O’Brien. With Erin’s guidance, we chose an object we connected with on a personal level, and used it to extrapolate details and draw out ideas for memoirs.

Then I learned about the “Elements of a Great Personal Essay” with freelance writer and essayist Stefanie Wass. Stefanie shared the seven elements of a personal essay (notice they are found in fiction, too):

1. “Theme”

2. “Clear story structure”

3. “Setting”

4. “Dialogue”

5. “Metaphor”

6. “Musing voice” (the reader sees the narrator work things out in his or her mind)

7. “Personification”

After Stefanie talked about each element, we took a few minutes and applied them to our own essays. I enjoyed this time to jot down ideas.

After the first two workshops, we broke for lunch. The Q&A Panel followed.

Poet Michael Salinger presented on public speaking for writers. He gave us an acronym, “PIPES”:




Eye contact”


The Q&A Panel (from left to right: Susanne Alexander, Alanna Klapp, Michael Salinger, & Deanna Adams)

I spoke next. My presentation, called “Jumpstart Your Writing Life,” discussed how to avoid pitfalls and procrastination, and how to organize and make the most of your writing time. I shared pointers from my award-winning essay “Overcoming Procrastination with Logs, Frogs, and Blogs” and the companion piece, “The Finer Points of Frog Eating.” I pulled tips from Jennifer Blanchard’s e-book, called Butt-In-Chair: A No-Excuses Writing Productivity Guide for Writers Who Struggle to Get Started. I also prepared a supplementary handout with resources. If you’d like one, please email me at alannaklapp@gmail.com.

Next, editor and writer Susanne Alexander talked about the self-edit. She listed nine reasons to edit your work (my favorite part of the creative process):

1. “Action” (use active not passive voice)

2. “Beckon” (readable, invites the reader in)

3. “Brighten” (descriptive words)

4. “De-Jargon” (don’t use big words to make your reader stop and get the dictionary, avoid cliches)

5. “Lighten” (you don’t always have to write serious work)

6. “Tighten” (cut words that aren’t necessary)

7. “Righten” (check pronouns)

8. “Shorten” (use a small word instead of a big word)

9. “Strengthen” (clear up vague writing)

Writer and teacher Keith Manos taught the last workshop, called “Write it Right!” This fun (yes, fun!) grammar course covered punctuation marks and how to write rhythmic sentences. He made me look at the hyphenated modifier in a new way, and after his class I found myself writing them more during practice (disclaimer: don’t overuse them, but for warm-ups they are great to loosen up your brain). An example I wrote post-conference:

“So I wasn’t going to write tonight, but the compulsive, feels-better-when-I-write-rather-than-when-I-don’t part of me said I deserved to sit down and write.”

Afterwards, Conference Coordinator and award-winning writer Deanna Adams said,  “I’m proud to continue the work of my mentor, Lea Leever Oldham, founder of the Western Reserve Writers Conference, one of the longest running writers conferences in Ohio. Because we writers spend so much time at the keyboard, we really need to get out and mingle with like-minded folks who by nature are supportive, and simply interesting people. They become our mentors, our friends, our consultants. And that’s why conferences and workshops are so necessary to writing success.”

                                          Deanna & me after the conference

If this piqued your interest, save the date for the spring conference on March 26, 2011. It’s a half day instead of a full, but just as valuable, and an excellent way to ease into the world of writers conferences if you haven’t attended one yet.

I’ll leave you with a quote from novelist Thrity Umrigar. It’s from a bonus section in the back of her novel The Space Between Us, called “Words to the Wise Would-Be Writer: 15 Tips.” Here’s tip #14:

“Be gentle with yourself. Great writing is always compassionate. The same compassion you bring to your observations about the foibles of humanity, you must bring to yourself. So don’t judge yourself harshly if the writing is truly terrible on a given day or you decided to go for a walk with your daughter instead of working on your manuscript. Just get back to it the next day.”

This always applies, but I think it’s even more appropriate for this time of year, when the holidays eat into writing time.

What’s your experience with writers conferences? What techniques do you employ to make sure you get some writing time in during the holiday season? What are your writing goals for 2011?

Special thanks to Jenn for the photos and your support.

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

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