Tuesday Tips on Column and Essay Writing

This past weekend, I attended the Harriette Austin Writers Conference in Athens, Georgia in order to give my brain a good kick in the creative writing seat of the pants (Um, I kinda mixed body parts/metaphors there…you can see why I needed a refresher course or two). So I attended a session called, “So You Want to be A Columnist” presented by Mr. Wally Eberhard, Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Georgia.

Now, here’s a funny side note. I strongly suspect that the Beneficent Mr. Hall may have taken a class from this fine professor during his stint in the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism. When I asked if he (the Beneficent Mr. Hall, that is) remembered this gentleman, he said, “Uhhh. The name sounds familiar.” Mr. Hall probably heard his introduction, right before he (the Beneficent Mr. Hall, that is) fell asleep.

I, however, listened very carefully to Wally Eberhard. Because even though I’ve been writing columns and essays for a long time, I think it’s easy to get in a bit of a rut, and forget the essentials. So here’s a few timely reminders when writing columns (or essays):

1. Engage the reader early! (Don’t take up valuable words, beating around the bush. Most columns are around 600 words)

2. Tell a story, when possible. (Make sure you have that beginning, middle and ending component)

3. Know the MARKET you’re writing for. (This is easy if you’re writing a Chicken Soup for the Soul essay on a specific topic, but not so easy if you’re writing for magazines or newspapers. Do your research before you write!)

4. Read other columnists and essays. (How often do you read really fine essays? Be honest, now. Yes, I thought so. Which is why I’m including a special link for you.)

We know how important it is to read in order to be a better writer. And yet, we often skip that reading when it comes to essays. Wally suggested this link where you can find 15 of the best columns ever written. Of course, you might want to nose around the rest of Columnists.com; it’s full of great information and interesting reads.

So, I’ve got some reading to do. Because I’ve also got some writing to do.

After the Conference is Over…

Whew! I don’t know about you, but when I get home from a really wonderful writing conference, my head feels like it’s about to burst with an info overload. My synapses are firing away with renewed vigor and ideas are popping into my brain like those Pop Rocks candy. I can’t wait to get to the keyboard, to put my splendiferous writing plans into action!

And then, after a few days, I begin to decompress and all that wonderful writing inspiration begins to drip, drip, drip out of me, perhaps landing on the kitchen floor, where I stand in front of the pantry, sneaking yet another Girl Scout cookie, and wondering what exactly I was so all-fired up about.

This time, I’m determined to keep the writing fire in my belly. It helps that the Southern Breeze SCBWI Springmingle Conference comes at the end of February, so now I can start March with my um, marching orders to myself. To wit:

Review my notes and apply all that learning and editor/agent wisdom to my manuscript. Honestly, I thought my manuscript sparkled with glittery brilliance, plus a dollop of awesome sauce on the top. Now I’m thinking it may need a splash of rewrites.

So, I’m going to need focus, discipline, my notes and maybe one of those books the presenters recommended. I’ll be sharing specifics over at Finders & Keepers for the next few weeks, if you’re in need of inspiration and marching orders.

And okay, I’m still going to need plenty of Girl Scout cookies. Don’t give me that look… they’re an excellent and tasty source of energy. (P.S. I’m not sharing the Thin Mints.)

Finding Something…er, Saturday on All I Want for Christmas

Well, this is embarrassing. I just talked about the virtue of taking care of business in a timely manner; that is, not putting off tomorrow what you can do today. And here I am, opining on Saturday what I should have opined yesterday, on Finding Something Friday.

So pretend this is Friday and I’ll feel better. I’ll also feel ever so much better if Santa brings me a sparkly writer’s conference for Christmas!

I had a little note yesterday from the Highlights folks about their writers workshops for 2011-you can read all about the workshops here. I’ve always wanted to go to Chautauqua and soak in all that writerly wisdom. Maybe I’ll put one of those workshops on my wish list.

Or I could give Santa Baby a choice and add Springmingle, the SCBWI Southern Breeze conference in February. Honestly, there are so many sweet conferences out there, my list is getting longer and longer.

Maybe you’d like to give Santa a few conference choices, too. You can check out Shaw Guides for a complete listing of wonderful writer’s conferences. And then you can dream of a Write Christmas, too!