Note: My notes from Day 2 will come along soon. I wanted to pen Day 3 while it was still fresh.
Jeanette Windler – Heralding Hope Through the Storm
Nothing could prepare me for the opening talk at today’s event. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeannette Windle at dinner on Sunday evening. She sat a few spots away and we discussed Twitter, Facebook and social media for a few minutes. Jeanette is a fiction author–one of those rare breads that I have tremendous respect for–people that possess a skill and talent that I do not (but wish I did). I have to confess I’m in awe of creative types who can spin yarns ex nihilo. But my thing is nonfiction and the reason I’m attending the conference is to get better at my wordsmithing and to grab those nuggets that will help me be more productive and more creative with nonfiction. So when the headliner for the first session of the morning is a fiction person, I’m curious, but not necessarily eager to listen because, well, there’s only so much a lughead like me will learn, right? Wrong.
Jeanette’s talk was inspiring–deeply so. Her words moved me in a way I have not been moved in a long time. Can I confess that Mr. big tough-guy needed more than a few Kleenex while listening (perhaps a better word is “experiencing”) her talk? I won’t do the injustice of relating Jeanette’s story myself–buy the CD and listen for yourself! Or borrow it from me because I’ll be buying it. Her message was one of hope amidst despair. There is a common struggle all writers face, in fact, all Christians face–in fact, all humans face. Things in this life are broken. Sometimes expectations are dashed. People are often asked by God to do really hard jobs. We don’t always live happily ever after. But one of the big points (the biggest by far for me) from Jeannette’s talk this morning was: God is big enough to hear our cries and complaints and accusations and shaken fists and anger and despair–and He doesn’t mind. He wants to hear it. He wants us to vent. In fact, when viewed from an eternal perspective, we likely wouldn’t mind our current plight if only we could figuratively raise ourselves up and peer out over the eternal landscape. Our trials and tribulations here would seem pretty small. Not that it matters right now! Deadlines loom, words won’t come, bills need to be paid, kids rebel…life goes on. But every now and again, poke your head up into the God-plain of existense for just a moment and look at life from His perspective to regain a healthier perspective for yourself.
James Watkins – Writing to Change Lives (Major Morning Class)
Jeanette is a tough act to follow, but Jim Watkins is up to the task. This is the second day (of the four) I’ve taken his morning class on writing. I’m filling up an entire notebook with notes (and yes, I did purchase his book too). Jim started off by talking about how men and women process information differently, with some humorous anecdotes. He also talked about focusing your writing, not biting off more than you can digest in a single X (article, poem, book, etc.). What makes a good lead and how to grab them by the throat right up front. Organizing your message and article. And being persuasive. I’m learning a lot from Jim and really appreciate his honesty and transparency. Be sure to visit Jim’s website: www.JamesWatkins.com.
Rusty Wright – Secrets of Successful Humor
Rusty’s session on writing (and speaking) humorously came immediately after lunch. Perhaps the biggest laugh came at the beginning of the session while Rusty was introducing himself and the topic. He started off by saying hopefully lunch would not make us drowsy and he would do his best to keep the session lively, whereupon one of the conferees raised her hand to relate a very short story. She said that if Rusty should happen to notice her nodding off during the talk it would not be because of his material or delivery, but because she had taken two sleeping pills, quite by accident, just before entering the classroom. Chuckles rippled throughout the crowd. I thought she was a plant–but she was serious! And I thought how appropriate that it happened to Rusty prior to delivering a talk on humor. (If you ever read this Rusty, my apologies as I don’t believe I properly built the tension before relating this anecdote. But that’s not your fault–I need more work on my humor!) Rusty, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a speaker par excellence. And his humor session continued to prove it. I love his handouts and I mark all over them. I’ll be working harder on my humor bits.
I’ll add just one bit of advice I’ve heard along the way: All good humor has, at its core, a kernal or nugget of truth. That’s what makes it funny.
Rusty Wright – Unblocking Writers Block
Another excellent handout from Rusty with lots of ideas to get the brain going when it’s stuck. One thing in particular stood out for me. He didn’t say it quite this way, but it’s the way I heard it: High stress = low creativity. And another: Always carry something with you, like a pad, so you can write down ideas when the inspiration strikes. Visit Rusty’s website for more: www.probe.org/Rusty
James Watkins – Writing for Goldfish: Hooking Online Readers
Although I LOVE Jim’s talks, this one was a bit diappointing for me. And not for bad or incorrect content. The content was about how to construct web pages (that happen to be your articles) so people can find them and read them better. And he pointed out, quite correctly, the difference between online reading and print reading. My disappointment was two-fold: My day job is marketing, and a lot of it is online/electronic marketing, so the concepts he provided I already knew. Secondly and more importantly, my very strong sense is that most of the people at the conference don’t have their own blogs or websites and consequently most of the material went over their heads. I believe the writers at the conference would be better served (next year) with more Blog 101 types of courses. And a course on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like). So my criticism is not with Jim’s always excellent preparation and content, but a mismatch between it and the conferees. They were scratching their heads during the talk.
Having provided a gentle critique, I will tell you about a very important take away for me. It was near the end of Jim’s talk. I have blogged for a few years. Many of my blog postings deal with local politics with the occassional trip into national politics. I’ve often thought that my “pen” was perhaps too sharp–that my snarky sarcasms may be damaging my own testimony and the testimony of Christ. But I always seem to become possessed when writing on political topics about which I’m passionate and I just can’t help myself! Jim offered some advice that will help me. He said that while “attitude” in online writing is more edgy (and mine certainly is), we should ask ourselves this question: Will what I write cause people to draw closer to God or drive them further away? That sentence gave me pause. He also quoted Colossians 4:5 and said our writing, our speech, should be full of grace and truth as Paul wrote. And finally, he offered the acronym of OAF: always be Objective, Accurate, and Fair. Good words and good thoughts for writers to live by.
That’s it for Day 3! Looking forward to tomorrow.