5 Things I Learned at the Writers’ Institute

It’s become a regular thing now. Each year, our ED visits the UW-Madison Writers Institute, and each year she brings back a bunch of knowledge and stories. Here’s what she shared with us:

Five Things I Learned at the 2017 UWM Writers’ Institute

by Mare Swallow

literary agents panel

Mare Swallow moderates the Meet The Agents Panel at WI 2017

  1. Stress” is not the same thing as “tension.”
    During a workshop, one writer described the “tension” in his story as a woman holding two babies who won’t stop crying. “That’s stress, not tension,” said the instructor. Tension is a key element in fiction or non-fiction. If you don’t know what it looks like, take a workshop.
  2. Avoid being too bold or “writing in character” when you query.
    This was the advice of literary agent Noah Ballard, who once received a query that began, “Dear Motherf—-er.” He read it aloud to the entire office. He then said, “No thanks” to the author.
  3. In storytelling, not every little detail is important.
    Jen Rubin, a Moth Story Slam champion, shared key components for storytelling – and reminded us that when you only have five minutes, you need to cut the fat. What is necessary? What will convey the image to your audience? That’s all you need to say.
  4. Tell a story you’re excited to tell.
    Rubin also reminded us that you don’t have to have an amazing topic – it’s how you feel about the story that will land with your audience. An audience wants to hear how you feel about the experience you’re sharing.
  5. Don’t put business cards in your badge holder.
    By the time I left on Sunday, my brain was so full of ideas and inspiration, I forgot a few details. Like the business cards I collected over the weekend – they were in my badge holder that I tossed in the garbage before I left the hotel. #networkingfail