The Write Track

I just returned from UW-Madison’s 29th Annual Writers’ Institute where an incredible lineup of guest instructors offered a wide array of sessions for people at every point on the writing spectrum: from “thinking about it,” to multi-published, and every possibility in-between.

In addition to engaging breakout sessions where the attendees learned tangible tips and actionable techniques, the conference offerings included critique services, agent pitching opportunities, page and poem contests, and a book signing event.

Courtesy of Kristin Oakley—Writers Institute Bookstore. I had the good fortune to sit with one of my early writing mentors, Laurel Yourke.

As well as teaching four sessions, I had the privilege of closing the conference by introducing a writing mentor experience—Pathway to Publication—an exclusive opportunity for 30 attendees of the 2018 Writers’ Institute.

Chris Norbury, the author of CASTLE DANGER, captured this photo of “Laurie bookends:” me at the podium “grilling” Laurie Scheer.

Chris Norbury’s Castle Danger can be purchased here (click).
Laurel Yourke’s Beyond the First Draft can be purchased here (click).

Whether verbal or written, excellent communicators always answer two questions:
1. What is the point?
2. Why does it matter?

Are you an excellent communicator?


65 thoughts on “The Write Track

  1. Laurie, sounds and looks like you all had a great time! 😀 Previously I’ve never done much public talking but meeting the leader of a group in the village who want me to give a talk about my book … this time I’m looking forward to instead of being so scared! 😀

  2. Hi Laurie,

    I try to be an excellent communicator, and I don’t always succeed.

    Sometimes the “point” is just too far outside of accepted norms for others to “get it” easily.
    And sometimes it works.

    One of the biggest things I regularly try to communicate is that the rate of change is exponentially increasing, and many of the older ways we had of doing things are failing in ways they never did in the past. We need to be willing to change some things that are fundamental to how most people currently view the world, like the idea of using markets to measure value.

    And it’s complex.
    And we can do far more with cooperation than is possible with competition.

  3. I love–and need–this constant reminder.
    1. What is the point?
    2. Why does it matter?
    Very helpful for a blog post I’m working on these days. So basic, but too often forgotten.
    I used to have a similar thought on my bulletin board but when my office moved last year, I had to purge so much, I guess I let it go. Thanks!

  4. If put on the spot, I am not an excellent communicator. With time to prepare, however, I can pull it off much better. 😊

    Sounds like a great conference. Bet you’re ready for a nap now though. You were busy!

  5. I communicate better in writing than I do in person. I tend to stammer, stumble over words, speak faster than I think, etc., etc. When writing, I can edit out all those flaws in communication.

  6. Amen. It was a awesome conference. I write better than I speak but came away from the conference knowing if you believe in what you are doing, it will be communicated.

  7. I strive to be an effective communicator, in part to combat society’s penchant for abbreviated text messaging, euphemisms, overuse of words like “awesome,” “amazing,” “great,” etc., and our incessant infatuation with interjections such as “like” and “you know.” Because I’m a writer, WORDS MATTER. They matter because ideas matter, and ideas are the best way to generate positive change in the world.

    This old dinosaur strives to use the precise words, the best words to get my message across. The more important the message, the harder I try to say exactly what I mean. But it’s hard to take that extra time and thought when we live in such a fast-paced, short-attention-span world.

    By the way, Laurie is far too modest to blow her own horn, but she gave one of the best presentations I’ve ever attended in my eight years of going to the UW Writers’ Institute. She wowed the crowd with her workshop on setting up a book launch. The session was so packed with great information, tips, insights, etc., that many of us commented she could easily turn that one session into a full day seminar.

    Laurie not only walks the walk and talks the talk, but she also sings the song, thinks the thought, lives the life. If you haven’t read “Note to Self,” do so. If you’re considering whether to buy “The Business of Being” when it’s released, don’t think. Commit to buying it AND reading it. You will come away with a better understanding of yourself and how to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

    PS- No, Laurie and I don’t pay each other for these back and forth compliments. When I see excellence in the world, I tell as many people about it as I can. She is excellent in so many ways. Laurie is warm, brilliant, charming, funny, insightful, and a delightful person to know. She’s written a multi-award-winning book that deserves praise. I’m humbled that she thinks highly of my modest fiction effort. Even if I’d never written a book, I’d still be telling everyone I know that Laurie Buchanan is a person you want on your side as you make your way through this crazy journey called life.

  8. From your description and energy, I’m getting that the conference was a grand success! Hope to hear more from you on your experience!
    Yes, being an effective communicator is a high priority for me. I am more successful when I use simple yet powerful models like the one you offer. The construct I most often use is very similar to yours: Context (situational dynamics); Purpose (what’s the point?); and Outcome (why does it matter) or, where are we going? or what would success look like? Context, Purpose and Outcome is one of the “frames” that Gail T. Fairhurst offers in her book, The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership. Whether we are trying to set a course of action, influence others, offer a bit of “reality coordinating” (where are we now), or simply have a useful conversation, frames foster connection! I’m a big supporter.
    These frames are useful in verbal or written communication. I find myself going to frames in scene writing … what’s the context (situational dynamics); why am I including this particular scene (point of the scene); and outcome, both what was the outcome in the scene?; how does the outcome relate to one of the themes in my memoir?; or even, what is a potential takeaway (outcome) for the reader.
    For leaders and others I coach, communication frames are quite valuable, assisting a leader to “externalize their thinking” is ways that offer clarity to “followers” and hopefully influence them to invest in identified desired outcomes.
    Thanks for your post!!

    • Audrey — Like you, I’m a firm believer that “simple yet powerful models” are often stronger than complex/convoluted ones. I resonate with Context, Purpose, and Outcome. Thank you for sharing it here 🙂

  9. I sure wish my daughter could attend one of these. Her young adult novel is outstanding. But between teaching, student loans and district requirements she has no funds, time to attend. This year she decided to add play into her life she is rowing with a dragon boat team. Also gives her exercise The world is missing a good book.
    (Why does becoming a school librarian cost $100,000.00 a year? Business Librarians often get full scholarship? The schools and kids are preempted once again)

    • Patricia — I hear you. I absolutely hear you. I wonder if your daughter could apply for a scholarship; many writing conferences offer them (i.e., Hedgebrook).

      How that your daughter is on a dragon boat rowing team!

      • She went to a one day conference in Portland 2 years ago and that cost $250 but this current book was not finished and her author she discussed her efforts which encouraged her and that’s how this book came to be. This year her 26 year old car died and she has her sister’s wedding – I don’t think we can help her right now.
        Yes, 5:30am running and workout is very good for her health and how fun to be rowing!

  10. Congratulations on your presentation and participation at this amazing event Laurie! As for what is the point and why does it matter – I work at it but most often get us there, sometimes after a bit of a tall tale…… I eventually seem to get the job done. 😉

  11. Each year I read your review of this conference with interest, and each year I dream of attending. I’ll get there–just you wait and see. : ) Until then, thank you for taking me there from the comfort of my computer chair.

    To answer…
    Verbally I occasionally stumble (over a hurdle created by my wonderful dyslexic brain). Thankfully I am far more skilled with my pen and keyboard.

  12. Wonderful that you pulled together so many presentations. I had hoped to come, but with my book launch just last week, I knew it was a pipe dream! But I would have loved to have seen you. We first met in person at the Writers Institute in 2016. The point is: You solidified my decision to go with SWP! Why it matters is: I’m a published author as of two weeks ago! Thank you!

  13. Laurie, from the reports, you seem to have captivated the crowd! And why not? You were communicating as clearly as a bell and they heard it ringing. As for me, I try to be concise as possible if passing on important information. However, if my story telling mode takes over, a fuller, more lively vocabulary comes into play and communication takes on a different drift, brighter and warmer.

  14. I am a listener and an observer . I use writing as MY way of communication .
    If I have a problem …write it out in a journal
    If I want to show I care or tell someone I love them …I write a letter , card , text an email .
    If I want to be creative …I write …that is the way I express myself .
    Always have …
    Looks like you had an interesting day Laurie . If you pick up a couple of nuggets of information it’s worthwhile …don’t you think?

  15. What is the point? My great-uncle once raised this very question during a short visit to my home years ago. (I must have asked him for his). His question has returned often over the years, especially as I settled here in Vermont where older folks (no more working their farms) gather daily outside our local store and “shoot the breeze.” (Once the weather cooperates). It is that abiding sense of community, of knowing you belong somewhere, even if it’s merely on the front porch of the local store where you go to hear and be heard. And yes, that’s quite important. Thanks for another trip down the old … lane, Laurie

    • Janet — I would love to invest an afternoon of my time sitting on the front porch of a vermont store shooting the breeze with local residents. Imagine the nuggets one could glean! 🙂

  16. Laurie, your presentations were some of my favorites. I like how you explained your daily discipline of tweeting and liking the websites of bloggers who’ve visited and liked your site. How do you deal with spam likes; people looking to make money from their ads by liking your site and having you visit theirs? Thanks.

    • Rebecca — It’s good to see you here. Thank you for stopping by. To answer your question: If I discover that someone is “using” me (a spam like), then I block them. If I have “followed” or “subscribed” to their site, I unfollow or unsubscribe.

  17. I had to speak authoritatively at City Hall backed by my neighbors. Defending ourselves against the largest retailer on the planet required lots of homework. As sponsor of the college honor society a few years later I spoke proudly of the inductees. That was easy!

    Now I “speak” mostly with my fingertips.

    One day I will do a book tour and I’ll need to have my thoughts lined up, preparation of a different sort. Perhaps I’ll incorporate a prop or two, who knows? I look forward to that day!

    Actually, I’m not a “natural” at public speaking, but being prepared gives me confidence. Brava to you for being a guiding light at this conference. 🙂

    • Marian — I love that you took on City Hall! 👏👏👏

      I’m eagerly looking forward to the day that you’re on book tour (maybe incorporating a prop or two) and I’ll get to meet you in person.

  18. Sounds like a great conference. I try to go to one a year if possible to learn and meet other writers. I like to think I’m a good communicator – in words and verbally – both are so important. I try to use some humour where possible although I am not a writer of humour per se. But lighten it up is a good motto to follow where possible. Oh, I was extremely shy as a teenager.

    • Sharon — I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head with HUMOR! And you can’t go wrong with LIGHTEN UP.

      You would have LOVED the Writers’ Institute and all of the other writers who attended.

  19. Laurie, you know because of my schedule at the Writer’s Institite I was unable to hear any of your presentations except the closing with Laurie Scheer. I missed out not being at your presentations, but I did not miss out on you, the person. You were gracious, fun, understanding and wise beyound your age, ha, ha!, when we first met at the beginning of the Institute and added your kindness throughout the rest of the gathering. For all who have not met Laurie in person, she is a peach. Thank you, Laurie!! If not before, I will see you next year. Murphy

    • Murphy — You are so kind and sweet. THANK YOU.

      You were busy pitching your heart out. I’m absolutely confident that the next time we meet will be at one of YOUR book launch parties🎈

      • Thanks for your nice thought, I hope so too, but I think it will be at the Writers Institute! Wherever it will be fun:)

  20. I’ve always been amazed by people who can wiggle their ears, roll their tongues, raise one eyebrow, sneer with one side of their lip like Elvis, make amazing sound effects…all of which I am inept at and not able to do even one…and wait there is more…my grandson can pop his fingers in a double-jointed way. He didn’t get that from me. Love this Laurie…you made me smile.

    • TimelessLady — I love the other facial “contortions” you brought up. My mom could raise one eyebrow in a devilish fashion, and I can do a side-lipped sneer. But I’m super impressed with your grandson’s double-jointed finger pops! 🙂

  21. Well, as a 34 year educator and review writer I’d like to think I’ve achieved some measure of success to that end, but like anything else we can aspire to more.

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