Writing conferences built her portfolio
How one freelancer put her new knowledge to work in landing markets
Published: June 22, 2010
|What’s wrong?” My screams brought my husband running. Sitting at the computer screen, I shook my head in disbelief. “They’re gonna publish my story!” I squealed. “The one about Thanksgiving at the farm!”|
The next day, the story of my family’s annual Thanksgiving gathering at our 200-year-old Pennsylvania dairy farm appeared on the Heartwarmers Web site. As congratulatory e-mails arrived from readers all over the country, I realized that my words had the power to inspire.
What other stories could I share? As I began journaling about daily life with my two girls—the first day of school, piano-practice sessions, trips to the ice cream parlor—I realized my heart was overflowing with stories. But where could I submit my work?
Following the advice of a writer friend, I registered for a local writing conference. The In the Company of Women conference sponsored by the International Women’s Writing Guild looked interesting, particularly the session on personal-essay writing.
For a full day, supportive writers offered advice and encouragement. I met new friends, enjoyed a delicious lunch, and sharpened the tools of my craft. The essay workshop opened my eyes to the literary elements of metaphor, voice and dialogue. My heart swelled with possibility when I learned of a new market for personal essays, The Christian Science Monitor.
A few months later the phrase “We like this one very much”—sweet words for any writer—appeared in my in-box. I’d broken into the Monitor’s Home Forum with an essay about a family quilt.
It hadn’t taken me long to realize that attendance at writing conferences pays big dividends.
Although I had now been published in a national newspaper, I knew I had much to learn. On a whim, I drove two hours south to attend an intensive, all-day essay-writing seminar in Columbus, Ohio. I studied essays by E.B. White, Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver and Elizabeth Berg, and discovered that they needed to include elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, theme), to show rather than tell, and to possess a sense of immediacy and emotional honesty.
Before long, my stories were accepted in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books and my college alumni magazine.
As a mother of two young girls, travel is often difficult for me. To further build my narrative-nonfiction skills, I did the next best thing: I enrolled in an online “webinar” sponsored by Adams Media. For a minimal fee, I sat in the comfort of my home and learned the top 10 reasons why stories are accepted (and rejected) by the popular Cup of Comfort anthologies. Although I missed the camaraderie and support of fellow writers at conferences, I was able to converse with other webinar participants via text messaging.
Thanks to knowledge gained from writing workshops, my portfolio is growing. To date, 14 of my personal essays have appeared in the Monitor (though recently that market has shrunk with the newspaper’s move to a weekly print edition). My credits also include two Cup of Comfort anthologies, seven Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, and publication in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times and Cleveland Magazine.
After an encouraging manuscript critique at the 2009 Northern Ohio conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, I now have the confidence to seek representation for my middle-grade novel.
I owe my publication success to authors who came before me—professional presenters at workshops who took time to share their knowledge of craft and insight into the publication world.
It feels good to give back. Currently, I teach a class on inspirational-essay writing at the University of Akron’s continuing-education program and two local community-education departments.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” No matter how thick my portfolio, I hope to always remember to sharpen my skills and further refine my work. Writing conferences have taught me to do just that.
|Freelancer Stefanie Wass’ writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, Cleveland Magazine, and many Cup of Comfort and Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Web: www.stefaniewass.com.||