Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Countdown to WI


No, not Wisconsin–well, sorta.

I’m talking the Writers’ Institute, an annual writing conference held in Madison, WI every April. I’ve only attended once, and then because the conference is close (a six-hour drive) and reasonable (ever see the prices for some of the bigger ones?).

Being in the Midwest makes things tougher when it comes to writing conferences. Sure, we’ve got what used to be Love Is Murder in Chicago–wait. Hang on. Um, okay, I guess that conference has gone the way of the dodo as of this year. Hmm. Well, that puts a damper on things. Point is, there aren’t a lot of writing conferences in our area. Hey, I’d love to travel to Florida for SleuthFest, or Seattle for the PNWA conference, or NYC for the Writer’s Digest conference, or (fill in other large city writing conferences here) but the pocketbook just can’t handle that kind of fun.

Notice the pattern? The bigger conferences tend to be located on either coast. And I’m stuck in the middle with yew (heh, couldn’t resist). Now, we do have other conferences in the Midwest (MN Northwoods WC), and last year the AWP had its conference in Minneapolis (which I didn’t find out about until the last day of the conference), but WI is big enough to be mentioned in Writer’s Digest magazine (where I initially found it).

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some great writing groups here: The Loft, the MN Writers Workshop, and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I have this thing about driving into Mpls/St. Paul at night. And it’s a hike for me since I live outside the metro area.

“Excuses, love.” My Muse tosses his LA Dodgers baseball cap onto my desk and peels off his leather bomber jacket. “You could go to those if you wanted to.”

I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I have a tough enough time driving to work and back some days, and I’m not even going into the city. Besides, I don’t like being somewhere unfamiliar at night.”

“The UW-Madison campus wasn’t familiar either when you went there the first time.”

“First, the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat and WI are on the edge of campus, and second, I stayed within walking distance. It’s a college campus, for crying out loud. And …”

He lays a finger on my lips. “Excuses. Now tell them the real reasons you would rather go to Madison.”

I roll my eyes. “You know, you didn’t need to show up yet. I won’t get a chance to work on my WIP until later.”

He points at my computer. “You tell them or I will.”

*grumble* “Fine.”

Truth is, there are a lot of published writers from UW-Madison, and their Continuing Education instructors have some serious creds. I started with an online class, then took a deep breath and signed up (well, applied to) for the week-long Write-By-The-Lake Retreat Master Novel class with the highly-recommended and beloved Christine DeSmet. The first year I tried, I didn’t make the grade in Chris’ class (she recommended another class, but I really wanted to take hers). The next time I did.

And that week in 2012 changed my writing life forever. Hell, it changed my life, period. Six novelists are the max in the class, each one with a novel they want to get published. I was one of those six. And guess what?

The Writing Sisters were born.

To this day, the seven of us keep in touch. Three of us are published or soon will be, and one has a second book coming out this year. We’re seven great gals who are more than just fellow writers. We’re friends.

So, I get all warm and fuzzy when it comes to UW-Madison and writing. The Writers’ Institute is a cornucopia of workshops for writers of all flavors, with keynote speakers and opportunities to meet with writers now published who have enjoyed lessons from the awesome instructors at UW. In fact, one of my writing sisters is on that list this year, so of course I have to go and heckle–er, cheer her on. They also have some great agents who take pitches and give workshops during the event.

And that’s where my frenzied work on my WIP comes in. I have just under 4 weeks to shine up my WIP so I can pitch it.

“You’re falling behind, love.” My Muse leans a hip on my desk. “You didn’t work on it last night.”

“I sent two queries off, and spent some time tweaking my log line. And #PitMad is tomorrow.”

“I thought you were going to lay off the Twitter pitch parties for a while.”

Yep, I was. Still might stay in the wings. But doggoneit, it’s another way to get an agent or editor’s attention.

Anyway, long story, short moral: if you have an opportunity to go to a writer’s conference, do it. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy of all those writers gathering, learning, and encouraging each other. Maybe I’ll see you there.


Author: Julie Holmes, author

Pen names: J. M. Holmes, J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I've been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, two chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

24 thoughts on “Countdown to WI

  1. I remember you blogging about your writing retreat before, which sounded so wonderful. I wish I could have gone to Sleuth Fest. Maybe I can plan for next year. There is a local writing conference in my state (which reminds me I have to find out where it’s being held this year) and a smaller one for mystery writers which conflicted with my schedule last year. I found out about it at the last minute. Very low scale that one, but I definitely want to go this year. Maybe, at some point, I can get to one of the big ones, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see the ads for some of the bigger conferences in Writer’s Digest every month, and my dream conference is the Maui one πŸ˜‰ My writing mentor was at SleuthFest last year as a guest speaker. This year Hank Phillippi Ryan is one of the keynote speakers–she’s one of the reasons I wanted to go this year. I’ve heard she’s a great speaker.

      Maybe you’ll have to come out this direction! Boy, Madison wouldn’t forget us πŸ˜‰ !

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL! I’ll bring Mr. E. along. What a party that would be πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The UW conferences are great! Some of the best teacher/mentors in the nation.
    So happy that we met there —

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds wonderful, Julie, and I don’t blame you for sticking with what works. We have a scifi/fantasy conference here in Portland OR, so I totally lucked out!!! It’s great fun and exhausting. And there are some talents who show up to help us along. Get that WIP ready and have fun πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I thought you were writing about the Women’s Institute – that’s what WI stands for here! Of course location is very important but you have serious connections to the place. Will you see your Writing Sisters there? Are you pitching whilst at the conference? Have a a great time and I look forward to your post about the event.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Only a couple of my writing sisters will make it to the Writer’s Institute, but we’re getting together for a reunion in August. I’ll be pitching both my WIP and another mss I’ve got polished and shiny. I can’t wait for the conference and the energy there; makes me want to take a sabbatical to just write. I’m going to try to get some pics as well. Hank Phillippi Ryan is one of the keynote speakers this year–I’m excited!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, writing conferences are game-changers! Learning current trends, getting support from other writers, finding golden opportunities–and meeting Writing Sisters!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey, Twitter parties are an important part of doing business, especially #PitMad! I know how you feel, though. I always feel guilty for the things I’m not working on.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear ya! I just wonder how many times the agents see my pitches and say: “Oh, it’s that one again.” Still, I’m thinking of tossing my hat in anyway. I’ll just have to come up with some bright shiny new pitches–ugh!

      Thanks for stopping by!


  8. Pingback: UW-Madison Writer's Institute

  9. Julie, as the director of the annual UW-Madison Writers’ Institute I just wanted to chime in and say thank you for these wonderful thoughts about our conference. It sounds like you had a transformative experience at our conference and I am inspired from your post to continue to program and provide information and resources for all writers (and readers alike) for our future conferences. Thank you and keep writing forward!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Laurie! There are so many good things to say about the Writers’ Institute, there’s no way I could possibly fit them all in one post. So excited to be heading there this year! See you there πŸ™‚


  10. Thanks for this post. I love WI, and will be there this year. Are you aware of Chicago Writers Conference? I produce it, full disclosure, but we are a sizeable, just-for-writers conference in Chicago. Hope to see you at WI next month!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Julie β€” I’m speaking at the Writers’ Institute this year so love, Love, LOVE this post! I hope to meet you in person at the conference. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Julie, I have yet to attend a writer’s conference. I hope to in the near future. You’ve given me encouragement. I’ll look for a “small” one in New England area. This will force me to finally begin my first novel…
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, find a writers’ conference out near you. There is nothing like getting all those writers together to learn and share. There might even be a chapter of Sisters in Crime in your area; sometimes they’ll sponsor conferences. And yes, start writing your book!

      Thanks for stopping by, Frances. Write on!


  13. Pingback: Great advice on writing conferences! – The Writers' Institute

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