Eleven Commandments

Outtakes 42

Eleven Commandments

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be telling you about some of the speakers and what to expect when you attend Frontiers in Writing’s Let’s Write Weekend June 28-30 in Amarillo, Texas. We have a very talented faculty and a comfortable facility. The Amarillo College administration, faculty and staff go out of their way to welcome us and make sure all our needs are met. I would like to express my appreciation to AC President, Dr. Paul Matney and the staff for their hospitality.

While the planning committee has worked hard to prepare for the event, and the speakers are working on their presentations, there is an unknown element—the attendees. Many of you will be attending your first conference. Perhaps you are unsure about who you will meet. Will you make mistakes? What do I wear? What do I need to bring? I hope the Eleven Commandments for conference attendees will help you have an enjoyable experience.

  1. Be on time. You want to arrive with sufficient time to locate the meeting rooms and the rest rooms, grab a cup of coffee or bottle of water, and find a seat. No one likes walking into a session that has started.
  2. Be prepared. Check out the speakers’ websites. Decide which sessions you want to attend. Don’t forget paper, pens, and a bottle of water. Don’t forget your business cards.
  3. Dress appropriately. While three piece suits are not required, business casual is the best guideline. Jeans are okay, but they should be clean and pressed. Comfortable footwear is a must. Just remember that writing is a business and you want to present yourself as a professional.
  4. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave empty cups, plates and such for someone else to pick up.
  5. Volunteer! Help is appreciated. Whether it’s decorating tables or distributing the speaker’s handouts, offering assistance sets you apart from the pack.
  6. Network! Network! Network! A conference is your opportunity to make new contacts and learn from others. Don’t sit on the sidelines and hope someone will approach you. You might miss out on an opportunity.
  7. Comment cards are available for your input. Please fill one out. Your comments help us improve our conference. Don’t forget to say thank you to the planning committee and the speakers.  A hand written note to the college administration will be greatly appreciated.
  8. Do not monopolize the conversations or the question and answer sessions. You are not the only one with something to say.
  9. Respect the speakers’ need for a break. Do not follow them into the rest room to shove your business card in a hand. You can be sure we still giggle over the story of the writer who followed an agent into the bathroom and pushed her manuscript under the stall door.
  10. Do not bad mouth your fellow writers. The writing community is a small one, and word will get out.
  11. Do not drink to excess. It’s not unusual for a group to go for a drink at the end of the day. Remember your image and the safety of yourself and others. Above all, we want to see you next year

We look forward to meeting you during the Let’s Write Weekend June 28-30 on the Amarillo College Washington Street Campus, Amarillo, Texas. Ya’ll come!

Cait Collins

Getting Out the News

Outtakes 33

Getting Out the News

At one time or another, we volunteer to help with an organization’s fund raiser or special event. Once the committee learns we are writers, we are appointed to serve on the publicity committee. One would think writing press releases or commercial copy would come easily to a writer.  And of course we’re naturals for appearing on TV and radio. Not necessarily so. Even the experts have problems preparing quality announcements.

One only has to watch television ads to realize good spots are scarce. I’ve watched commercials that did not sell the product or service. Sometimes I didn’t even know the point of the advertisement. If the viewer is scratching his head at the end of the spot, the copy writer has failed his client. I’ve written copy over the years, some good, some not so great. This is what I’ve learned about writing ads and press releases. Simply approach the release as a story.

That’s it. Give it a beginning, middle, and an end. Ad classes say we should create the need (beginning), provide a solution (middle), and seal the deal (end). Keep it simple. Don’t leave out the details. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to call a client to get event dates, location, times, or contact information. Omit this vital information, and the reader or listener is still in the dark. Proof read your copy for typo’s and transposed numbers. Phone numbers, email addresses, website information, street addresses and dates are easy targets for errors. Finally, make sure you submit the information at least 48 hours prior to the media’s deadline. Early submission gives the media reps the opportunity to verify information before the ad hits the air or newspaper.

Radio and television stations often provide slots on morning shows or talk news for non-profits and community organizations to promote events. Seize the opportunity! It’s not as frightening as you might think. Send a press release to the station so the producer has enough information to properly schedule your appearance. Make a few notes on index cards and keep them with you during the interviews. Arrive early so that the producer or interviewer can review the press release with you before going on the air. Relax. Be open and friendly. Listen to the interviewer’s questions before responding. Thank the interviewer for their time, and write a thank you note afterward.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is the value of social media. Press releases may be posted on Face Book or any of the numerous social media sites. If you send the message out to all of your friends, one of your contacts might share with their friends, who will share with their contacts. The potential is amazing. Linking to friends’ websites provides another avenue to promote the activity. Above all, it’s free publicity.

Good promotion takes time to prepare. It can make or break your event so don’t wait to the last minute to get started. Now if you will excuse me, I have a PSA and press release to write for Frontiers in Writing’s Let’s Write Weekend to be held June 29-30, 2012 at the Amarillo College Washington Street campus in Amarillo, Texas. Additional information may be found on our website, panhandleprowriters.org.

Cait Collins

Writers’ Conferences

Outtakes 20

Writers’ Conferences

Beginning writers often run into problems jump starting their careers. Questions regarding copyright, contracts, submissions, formatting, genres, and marketing come up and answers are sometimes hard to find. I’ve been there so I understand the frustration. I thought I was the only writer out there who had doubts and questions. I had a novel. I’d submitted it. The agent liked it, but didn’t sign me. So what do you do?

My answer came from a newspaper article for a writer’s conference right here in Amarillo. I read the information, called for the registration packet, and made plans to pick brains, and learn more about getting published. I so enjoyed that weekend. I attended workshops with New York Times Best Selling author Christina Dodd, mystery author Rick Riordan, and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham. The best part was that I was no longer alone. I went to the conference not knowing anyone, and left with a pocketful of business cards from fellow writers. I became friends with some of the folks I met, and ten years later, I still can count on their support and encouragement.

Do I recommend writers’ conferences? Absolutely! The trick is finding the right one for your needs. I prefer smaller conferences (I’m shy), but some of my friends like the larger ones. I recommend Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo. The 2012 conference will be held the weekend of June 29-30 on the Amarillo College campus. This year’s conference will offer workshops for everyone whether you are a beginner or a published author. If Amarillo is a little too far away, run an internet search for a conference in your area. It will cost a little money, but this is an investment in your writing career. The contacts you make are so valuable, and the friendships made are priceless.

Cait Collins



By Natalie Bright

Real life stories seem to be everywhere, from reality television to magazines covering genuine people overcoming life’s obstacles. When you recount your life or if you have ever talked to someone about their life experiences, things are remembered in segments or scenes. Creative nonfiction takes those scenes, fills in the background, and introduces the characters in a narrative form.

“Creative nonfiction is the fastest growing genre,” says Lee Gutkind, award winning author and professor at the University of Pittsburgh and speaker at Frontiers in Writing in Amarillo.* He sites proof as evidenced by the decrease of fiction in popular magazines.  “More and more publications have cut back straight fiction into stories based on real life experiences.” he says. “Five years ago the adventure nonfictions were popular. Today we are in the middle of an information explosion and readers want more serious topics such as science, technology, and economics.”

When crafting creative nonfiction, story must come first. The substance of the information is important, but the story has to come before the factual information. It is the people and the story that will hook the reader.  Gutkind stresses that the writer must find the true scene. It’s got to be real and true with accurate information.

Once the real life story is uncovered, the first three paragraphs formulate your hook. “Your beginning must be fast, soon, now, best and strongest,” he says. “Sixty percent of the readers are lost at this point.  Your goal is to engage the reader at the very beginning and keep them turning pages.”

Gutkind recommends crafting your creative nonfiction story around a frame and focus. The frame is the container or overall narrative structure of your story. Your narrative should be presented in an interesting and orderly manner, the simplest being the chronological beginning to end scenario.

The next essential part of your article or book is the focus, or overall theme. What is the primary point that ties the elements of your story together? Another way to determine the focus is to ask yourself why you are writing this particular story. As the author, what do you want to say about this topic? The focus will also help you to determine which facts are essential to the story and to identify details that may need to be excluded.

One cannot forget an important building block of the creative nonfiction story which is the story itself, or the facts. Gutkind explains, “The story determines the research the writer must do.”

As you work on the ending, always keep your overall story structure in mind or frame. “Guide your reader’s to what it is you want them to believe but use evidence,” explains Gutkind. He says don’t worry about endings, as the perfect ending may only come after completion of the entire book.  “Lead the reader through your story. Don’t tell people what they want to know until you’re ready to dispense with them.”

Natalie Bright

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 For more information, The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind

*Frontiers in Writing is a summer writing program sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers. Mark your calendar and join us in Amarillo, June 29-30, 2012!