Jot is this Saturday!

2015_jot_6_poster (1)The Jot Conference is this Saturday, September 12th from 6-10pm at Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, Michigan.

You should come. We still have a few open seats. The best way to make sure that you have one of those seat is to sign up here.

If you don’t know what Jot is, it is the writers conference started by my writers group, The Weaklings. Other writers conferences have fancy, well-published speakers and last for days at a time. Those conferences also cost a bucket of money and require more time than most of us have available. Jot is free, only one night, and it is a great place to connect with other writers. Plus, we build a bit of time into the conference so you can get some writing done too.

This is the sixth Jot conference that we’ve held, but it is the first that we’ve held outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. And like the first Jot ever, the speakers for this Saturday are made up of the writers in The Weaklings. We’re basically hitting the reset button on the whole thing to start it in another city.

For our Grand Rapids writing pals who are worried that we won’t be coming back to Beer City, USA, don’t worry, we’ll be back in the spring. But if you can make it to Three Rivers this Saturday, you should come. Even if you don’t like any of the presentations (which are free so you shouldn’t complain), the bookstore that is hosting Jot is worth the trip. Picture in your head the perfect used bookstore. You just pictured Lowry’s.

I hope to see you there!

West Michigan Writers Conferences | Which is best?

I attend a few writers’ conferences in my area whenever they happen. Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing happens every other year. The Breathe Writers Conference happens yearly. The Jot Writers’ Conference happens twice a year (or whenever we manage to put one together). And I’ve seen enough to know that each conference has a specific clientele.

ffw-logo-shadowAttendees of the Festival of Faith & Writing are a diverse crowd. Their ages range from college student to retiree. Given the university backing, this conference always brings in big name speakers and draws attendees from all over the country, if not from all over the world. It is the conference to attend when you either want to learn about writing from authors you’ve read or when you have a finished book proposal that you’d like to pitch to the many publishers and agents that show up.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

Breathe Conference attendees are less diverse. Though it is changing, the typical Breathe attendee is female, aged between 30 and 60, and has enough discretionary money and time to afford a yearly excursion into the world of publishing. Their speakers all know their stuff, but you may not have their books on your nightstand (for example, I’ve been a Breathe speaker before and I’m barely published at all). This is the conference to attend when you need to make some firm connections with other writers and publishers who live in the West Michigan area. Though some attendees come from further afield, most call West Michigan home.

jot_logoJot attendees are the best in the world. Since money isn’t a limiting factor to come to Jot, this conference appeals to people who want to dip their toe in the writing experience. That isn’t to say that accomplished writing professionals don’t also attend Jot, but you are going to see a greater percentage of average work-a-day fellows at Jot than you would at Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing or at Breathe. The speakers for Jot aren’t paid at all, so it is doubtful that you’ll see any millionaire authors headlining this conference, but that doesn’t make any difference to the people who come out for a free night of encouragement and education.

So which is the best West Michigan writers conference? Which one should you attend if you are interested in learning about the written word?

Attend them all and find out for yourself which is best. I can’t make that call for you.

(But I can tell you that Jot won’t cost you anything but your time and the next one is coming up soon – jotwritersconference.com)

Jot 5 | Save the Date

jot_logoThe Jot Writers’ Conference always seems to sneak up on me. And that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I wasn’t one of the main organizers of the event. But thanks to my skills in last-minute, procrastination-honed organization, I have exciting news.

Jot 5 is Friday, March 13th from 7-11pm at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI.

We even have speakers lined up. Good ones, too. I’ll be posting their topics soon on the main Jot website, but for now here’s the list:

Jot will also have some workshops, but those aren’t ready to announce yet. Just forget I said anything about the workshops.

Stay tuned to our main Jot website for all of the upcoming news about Jot 5!

I am thankful for Jot

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jot_4_andrew_livestreamThis past weekend, my writers’ group put on the 4th Semi-Annual Jot Writers’ Conference. It was a great time of encouragement, interaction, and learning. If you didn’t get a chance to attend in person, you can still watch the Livestream video here.

Or I could just give you incredibly brief synopses of each presentation:

  • Alison Hodgson – Getting started is hard. It is easier to keep going than to start again. One day you’ll be able to shove your success in the faces of naysayers (but, you know, in a professional and nice way), but only if you keep going.
  • Andrew Rogers – Rejection can be as hard for the publisher as it is for the writer. Don’t be discouraged.
  • Ellen Stumbo – Write the truth, even (maybe especially) when it is hard. You will be more helpful to those people who are going through where you have been than if you pretend you’ve never been there yourself. The truth is worth it, even it some people dislike you for telling it.
  • Sam Carbaugh – Writers get residuals where illustrators do not. Keep your priorities straight. Your book may be a flash in the pan, but your family will be with you for the long run.

One thing we did differently for Jot 4 was the addition of concurrent workshops following the main presentations. I led one on blogging (I’ll post on this tomorrow). Matthew Landrum led one on poetry. Jeff Chapman led one on fiction. I would have loved to sit in on these, but I couldn’t (since I was leading one at the same time), but I’d love to hear some feedback from those of you who did attend them. We’ll probably do them again anyway, but feedback is always helpful.

Speaking of feedback, I’d love to hear any and all of your thoughts regarding Jot.

  • Did you attend?
  • What was your favorite part of Jot?
  • How could we improve the next event?
  • Would you buy a Jot t-shirt or button?

Jot IV – Mark Your Calendars

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My writers group, The Weaklings, met recently to discuss the next Jot Writers Mini-Conference. I thought I’d tell you what we know so far.

Jot IV or Jot 4 (which one do you like better?) will take place on Friday, September 12th at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI from 7pm – 11pm. The price, as it has always been, will be nothing. The value will be considerably more (hopefully).

At the moment, only a few of our speakers have been confirmed. We’ll have veteran Jot speaker and editor at Discovery House Publishers, Andrew Rogers, and we just signed on blogger and Houzz.com writer, Alison Hodgson. We have two more speakers that we’re still bullying into agreements, so stay tuned for those.

For past attendees, we’re excited to announce that Baker Book House has agreed to expand the stage area of the store to accommodate our ever-growing audience. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with parking. I know that a few people couldn’t find spots at Jot 3 so they turned around. Maybe it would be good for a few of you to carpool. Make a writing friend and come together.

Last, we are excited to announce that we are expanding our workshops. Matthew Landrum, poetry editor for Structo Magazine, will again lead a workshop on poetry. I’ll be leading a blogging workshop. And we have a third workshop that I’ll announce at a later date. All the workshops will run simultaneously after the main presentations.

If you’ve never been to a Jot Mini-Conference before, here’s what you need to know. We’ve tried to condense the writers conference experience into one night. We make it short because we know that writers have full-time jobs and families and that time is a limited resource. And we make it free because we know how expensive most writers conferences are. And if those things aren’t unique enough, we also incorporate some writing time into the evening so you can practice what you’ve learned right away.

The goals of Jot and the motto are the same: Meet. Write. Learn.

Mark your calendars now and we’ll see you on September 12th!

PS – I’ve decided that the Jot logo is in sore need of an update. Would you like a chance to vote on designs or submit your own? Tell me in the comments below.

Good Problems: A Reflection on Jot

jot_josh_1Last Friday, my writer’s group put on the 3rd Jot Conference, and for all the positive feedback we received, we also had some problems. But they were good problems to have.

The main complaint we heard was about parking. Jot is held at Baker Book House, my place of work, so I am able to hold the conference there free of charge. The building was just remodeled and the event space within is beautiful. jot_tracy_1Plus, what better surroundings could writers ask for than a bookstore? But while the inside of the building is quite nice, the outside doesn’t have quite enough parking to accommodate the growing crowd of Jot attendees.

You see, Jot is getting bigger. Our first event, we had about 60 people attend. Our second event, the number was around 70. This time, Andrew Rogers counted over 80 people in attendance. And amazingly, around 30% off the audience had never attended a previous Jot Conference. jot_susie_1We are a bit overwhelmed by the response of the writing community in West Michigan.

But what do we do about our growing numbers and the problems that can cause?

If we move the conference to somewhere larger, we would likely have to pay for the event space. And as Jot is a free conference, we are loath to do anything that might raise our costs.

Ijot_chad_1f we keep it at Baker, we’ll have to get creative when it comes to parking solutions. Do we rent a shuttle van for attendees? Do we ask people to carpool with other writers? Do we cap the number of people allowed to come?

When I met with my writer’s group, The Weaklings, to discuss these things, jot_thomas_1we all agreed that something will have to change before Jot 4 (tentatively scheduled for September 2014). We’re looking at options, but I’d love to hear some feedback from you. How can we continue to grow Jot so that every aspect of the conference goes better? Should we have an opportunity for people to offer donations? Should we charge? Should we do a Kickstarter campaign?

Anyway, I thought Jot 3 went really well. The content was great. The turnout was great. And I can’t wait for the next one! How about you?

I am a dinosaur decapitator.

We had a great Jot Conference last Friday night!

A full crowd showed up to hear some great speakers, and I was happy to be among them. The conference that my writers group, the Weaklings, put on is just as much for us as it is for other writers in our area. Perhaps more so.

In any event, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from our first presenter and newest member of the Weaklings, Thomas McClurg.

Saying that Thomas is a film buff is like saying Rip Van Winkle took a catnap. But his passion for watching movies is exceeded by his passion for writing. And in many ways, his experience with films and screenwriting has helped him as a fiction writer.

The overlap between the disciplines of writing for the screen and writing books is obvious. Both invite people to lose themselves in the worlds created for them. Both involve good character development and solid plots. And both are made up of a series of scenes which must further the action or risk losing the watcher/reader.

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

To this last point, Thomas shared the example of picturing a scene as an Apatosaurus. The head is the beginning of the scene, the long neck gives more information while moving slowly toward the large body or meat of the scene. The tail is what happens after the main action occurs. After giving us this illustration, Thomas showed us two scenes from the Star Trek reboot, one of which was this one:

In the scene, we are shown a car speeding through the desert driven by a boy. The boy jumps from the car just before it plummets off a cliff. As the police officer who had been chasing the boy stands over him, he asks his name. The punch line for the scene is the boy’s revelation to be James Tiberius Kirk.

If this scene were an Apatosaurus, its head and tail had been removed, leaving only the body of the dinosaur. We didn’t see young Kirk steal the car, and we didn’t see the police officer take him into custody afterward.

Thomas said that this is a good way of keeping the reader’s attention, especially when the attention spans of readers are shortening by the minute. He asked us to write a full scene, then cut the head and tail off the dinosaur. Leave only the meat.

This is as true to screenwriting as it is to novel-writing (and even more true to flash fiction writing), but some writers forget this and leave readers floundering through pages of description without giving them a plot or a character onto which they may latch.

Thomas had a lot more great things to say. You may be able to watch the whole conference online here if the video works. And if it doesn’t, you probably should have come to the Jot event.

The Jot Conference Happens Tomorrow Night

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If this is the first you’ve heard of Jot, don’t worry. There’s still time to cancel whatever plans you made for tomorrow night. Unless you were planning to attend Jot. Keep those plans.

We’re going to have a great conference. In case you were curious about the content being presented, fellow writer and Jot co-founder, Bob Evenhouse, has been posting interviews on the Jot Blog:

And our keynote speaker is the award-winning author, Tracy Groot. (Read her interview here)

Best of all, the entire thing is free to attend. Don’t miss it!

On the Origin of Jot

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “jot” stems from the Latin “jota” which is a derivation of the Greek “iota”, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. Thus, a jot is one of the smallest things you can write. And it has taken this meaning as both noun (the smallest letter) and verb (to write a small amount).

Jot is also the name that my writer’s group settled on when we came up with our free, one-night writer’s conference concept. As busy guys with full-time jobs and families, we don’t always have the time or money to attend big writers’ conferences, awesome though they be. So we decided to start one of our own targeting the needs of people like us.

So the Jot Conference, or mini-conference if you prefer, is one night only. It is free to attend. And it offers quality sessions on a variety of writing topics by amazing guest speakers who are presenting by the goodness of their hearts (we don’t actually pay any of the speakers, so if you come, be sure to buy their books and tell them that you appreciate their time).

The next Jot is happening on Friday, March 14th, from 7 – 11 pm, at Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.

tracy_groot

Tracy Groot

Our keynote speaker is the award-winning author of the newly-released The Sentinels of Andersonville, Tracy Groot.

Other speakers include the author Susie Finkbeiner, speaker and editorial director of Baker Books Chad Allen, and budding novelist Thomas McClurg. We even have a free poetry workshop (available to sign up for at registration) with poetry editor of Structo Magazine, Matthew Landrum.

Keep up to date by following the Jot blog. I hope to see you there!

Another Free Event for Writers

If you attended the first Jot Conference, you may recognize Chad Allen. Chad is the editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Chad was kind enough to join us and talk about what editors wish writers knew about the publishing process. It was a great interview and if you have a spare half-hour, it’s worth watching.

Anyway, Chad will be doing another free presentation on writing next week at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids. So, if you live within driving distance and have ever doubted your abilities as a writer, you should attend this event.

Baker_Chad-6Here’s the snippet that Chad sent me:

The road to getting published can be tough. How can you improve your writing, build your platform, hold down a day job, and still have a life? What practices can writers use to find their voice and produce their best work? In this presentation Baker Books editor Chad Allen shares strategies to help writers be successful over the long run.

The title of his new talk is “You Can Do This, An Editor’s Manifesto: How Writers Can Stay Motivated and Keep Moving on the Road to Publication.” It’s happening next Tuesday, October 15th at 7:00 PM at Baker Book House (2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546).

And if you are eager for the next Jot Mini-Conference, stay tuned. I’m hoping to pin the rest of the Weaklings down to discuss it soon.