Tag Archives: Jot Mini-Writers Conference

Thoughts on the Sixth Jot Writers Conference

The sixth Jot Writers Conference has come and gone. It turned out to be another great event. Just over 30 writers filled the presentation space at Lowry’s Books and More. I met loads of new writers and enjoyed hearing about their different projects.

This was our first event at Lowry’s, which turned out to be a solid venue for writing-related events. It’s a sprawling used book store, (You could spend hours there. Trust me.) and the event space is part of their in-store cafe, which smelled of cupcakes. Used books and cupcakes. What’s not to love?

To make an already  fun night even better, the owner, Tom, sprung for free pizza and soda — for the whole conference. One of the goals of every Jot Conference is to get writers to meet each other. Most writers are typically shy and introverted, so it’s not always easy to make sure everyone has met someone new. But nothing gets people to loosen up and mingle a little bit like free pizza. (Okay, perhaps free drinks would do the same, but you get my point.)

My favorite part of the evening was an interview I conducted with Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, one-time editor of Catapult Magazine, and editor of the new journal, Topology Magazine. Kirstin is one of the first editors who published something I had written (see the links to Catapult in the writing tab above). I’m grateful that she, her husband Rob, and the rest of the Catapult crew took a shot with me back then (circa ’08 and ’09). Every publication is an honor, but there’s something about the first couple that are especially meaningful. It was a thrill for me to interview her at a Jot Conference and express my gratitude.

One of these days we’re going to ask someone with an eye for photography to come to a Jot Conference and snap some photos. Until then we have my iPhone pics. The first is of Josh Mosey, who talked about character development through the lens of Norse mythology.

JOT VI_Mosey

Bob Evenhouse gave a talk on the basics of blogging. There were a good number of writers in attendance with questions about blogging, so I was glad we had this topic covered.

JOT VI_Evenhouse

Thomas McClurg spoke on self-editing, and more specifically, being willing to make cuts to your writing which empower readers’ imaginations to run wild. As is typical for Thomas, his presentation was thoughtful with a touch of understated humor. (I was in the back during his presentation, so, this image is the poorest of the three. We really, really, really need to get a real photographer to a Jot Conference some day…)

JOT VI_McClurg

(I didn’t get any pics of Matt Landrum presenting or of the interview with Kirstin, unfortunately.)

The next Jot will be held in Grand Rapids. We’re planning on holding it in March, though the where, the when, and the who are not set in stone yet. I’ll blog about it as things are finalized in the next few months. Hope to see you there!


Posts about previous Jot Conferences:

Reflections of the Fourth Jot Conference

Jot Writers Conference: The iPhone Pics Report (first conference)

Some Thoughts on Jot: the GR Writers Mini-Conference (first conference)


Sign up for the Next Jot Conference

My writers group puts on a bi-annual free event for writers called, The Jot Conference. We’ll be hosting the next one at Lowry’s Books and More in Three Rivers, Michigan on 9.12.15. Our seating is limited. So sign up today if you’re interested in attending. I’d love to see you there!

Reflections on the fourth Jot Conference

The flow of events

Last night The Weaklings put on the fourth Jot Conference. We had 82 people show up, and judging by an unofficial “raise your hand if this is your first time at Jot” poll from the stage, it looked like about one third of the audience were new people.


Our friend, Alison Hodgson, spoke first and provided three practical tips for writers: (1) Start writing; (2) Don’t stop; (3) Create your own “You’ll rue the day!” list, which is something of a black list you keep for recording the names of people who discourage you in your writing. Alison is a humorist, so I think this last tip is a joke. :-)

I spoke next and talked about lessons I’ve learned from my first year as an acquisitions editor. The talk seemed to be received well. My year as an acquisitions editor has been one of the most exciting of my career so far. As I told the group last night, I have a long way to go on the road to becoming an editor of substance. However I have learned so much and was delighted to share what I know thus far.

After my presentation Ellen Stumbo spoke on the value of vulnerability in your writing. Ellen is a blogger, journalist, and an aspiring author. She was also kind enough to drive from Wisconsin just to participate in Jot. I think I can speak for all of The Weaklings and the other Jot friends (ahem, Ann, Amelia, and Susie) when I say that Ellen seems like a kindred spirit. During her presentation on vulnerability she spoke about “what vulnerability is not,” (mainly, it’s not a confessional of every wicked thing you’ve ever done) which struck me as an important point to make.

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Panel Discussion at the Jot Conference

JOT II is right around the corner (next week Friday, September 13th, to be precise…) At this JOT my writers group will be hosting a panel discussion. We, the Weaklings, will be the panel. We’ve never done something like this before. To be honest, the whole thing feels a little pretentious. We certainly don’t mean it to be, and I hope on the night of JOT it doesn’t come off that way. But I thought I’d tell the story of the panel discussion here, just in case anyone thinks we’re getting big heads. :)

The last JOT totally surprised us. We couldn’t believe 60 people showed up to hear us talk about writing. It was a jaw dropping night for us. We made new friends, we connected with old ones, and everyone that came was so responsive to our presentations. We didn’t count on any of that happening. Honestly, we would’ve been happy if just five people had shown up, much less 60.

Something else we didn’t count on was a common question from attendees. All four of us were asked the same thing by different people:

“How can I find / start / join a writers group?”

None of us knew that question was coming and so none of us had a very good answer ready. As we debriefed after JOT, and as we talked to other writers in other groups, we realized that there really isn’t one way to answer this question. Like so many other situations in life, how you join or start a writers group is different for everyone.

After talking about it for a while we decided to have a panel discussion on the topic of writers groups during JOT II. We want to take a few minutes and try to provide a quality answer to this question. We’ll tell the story of how we got started writing together, what the benefits are to being in a group, and how to fight against the indefatigable tide of “real life” that makes you think you’re “too busy” to be in your group.

If you’re in the greater Grand Rapids area I hope you’ll consider coming to JOT II next week. It’s fun, it’s free, and you’ll meet a lot of other writers in a very casual, easy-going setting. See you there.





A video recording of my JOT conference presentation

I know I’ve been talking about the JOT conference on this blog a lot lately. I promise, this will be my last post about JOT for a while…

The video below contains my entire 15 minute presentation and the Q&A time that followed. It is entitled “Three Things Publishers Like to See on Book Proposals.” The audio was taken from the live mike in the room, so turn up the volume on your computer.

Jot Mini Writers Conference: The iPhone Pics Report

The first Jot: Mini Writers Conference was held on February 8th, 2013 at Baker Book House. Here is my unapologetic-ally bad iPhone pics of the evening.

Josh Mosey_Jot


Josh Mosey gave a presentation on Flash Fiction. Read his blog and you’ll get a lot of exposure to it. It’s a hard medium to be good at. Josh, however, is a natural.

Bob Evenhouse 2_Jot


Bob Evenhouse gave a presentation entitled, “Things I wish I knew Before My Fifth Draft.” It was really excellent. He told his personal story of drafting and re-drafting his novel numerous times and all the joys and trials along the way. There were lots of practical takeaways for any wannabe novelist.

Structo Journal, poetry, works and days, jot writers conference


Matthew Landrum gave a great presentation on writing poetry. Something that Matt is uniquely good at is making poetry accessible to non-poets. I’ve told him numerous times that poetry feels like a complete mystery to me. It might as well be brain surgery or auto mechanics. I feel completely inept when I try to distinguish what is good poetry and what is bad. Over the years Matt has exposed me to a lot of great poetry and has a way of breaking down its mysterious nature into ideas I can understand.

Josh Mosey, Chad R. Allen, Baker Publishing Group, Jot Writers Conference


Jot ended with interview of Chad R. Allen by Josh Mosey. Chad is the editorial director of Baker Books. His interview was fantastic. He explained the three things they look for when considering a book proposal – unique message, great writing, platform – and he gave us an inside look as to what happens in a pub board. He also talked a little bit about the contract process and highlighted that authors are like “business partners” with a publisher. Both groups have to do their part in order for the book to succeed. I really enjoyed this interview.

Some thoughts on JOT: The GR Writers Mini-Conference


That’s my first big thought after Jot. The Weaklings (my writers group of five or more years) put on a successful “mini writers conference” last weekend. But how do we measure success in an event like this? And were there any surprises? I’ll try to answer these two questions in the rest of the post.

What surprised me at Jot:

  • The attendance. – We had 58 people sign up before we started and others trickled in as we got going! The meeting space was packed. It was just the right size group. I was able to at least say hello to most people that came and have many meaningful conversations with others. I was thrilled that so many people wanted to come hear our presentations. If you were one of those people – Thank you for coming!
  • A recurring question: “How do I find a writers group?” – I keep getting asked this question and I don’t have a good answer for it. My writers group started because we were friends. Josh, Bob, and I were all active readers asking ourselves the question, “I wonder if I could write too?” Then Matt came along (he was already a writer) and basically said, “Yes you can. Let’s get organized.” Boom. The Weaklings were born. (If you want the full story read Josh’s post about the Weaklings.) But none of this really answers the above question. The best I’ve been able to tell people is, “Find other like-minded writers and just start taking it seriously.” I’m not satisfied with that. I’m going to keep pondering this question. Stay tuned.
  • Representing a publisher. – This might sound stupid, but at writers conferences I often forget that I represent a publisher. When I’m in these settings I think of myself as just another writer in the group. Seriously. (Again, this might sound really dumb, but I’m being honest.) So I’m always surprised by some of the questions I get asked. At Jot I got to answer a number of questions about publishing, and about my workplace, Zondervan. It was fun. I think too often publishers seem like some sort of mysterious club to writers. I enjoy just talking straight with people and try to clear away the fog around publishing.

What made Jot successful.

  • Meeting other writers. – More than anything else, this is what I personally hoped to achieve with Jot. I wanted to make friends with other writers in the Grand Rapids area. In this regard, Jot was a huge success. I shook hands with lots of new people. I learned about what other people are writing. I also (hopefully) helped encourage them to keep on writing. I even exchanged emails with a couple of folks.
  • Reconnecting with the writers I already know. – For me, this really important. I’ve said on this blog before that if there’s anything I’ve learned about writing over the last few years it’s that writing cannot be done alone. The encouragement from the other guys in the Weaklings has propelled me forward to seeing a good number of publications. My network of friends in the writing community are inspiring me even further. At Jot I got to see friends from the Breathe Conference, the Guild (those two groups have some overlap, but they are not actually the same), friends from Zondervan, from Baker, from Cornerstone University (my Alma mater), and lots of other familiar faces.
  • I kept my talk within the 15 minute time frame. – In my pre-Jot post I mentioned that I’m long-winded. Well, the gods of public speaking smiled on me at Jot and I was able to keep my talk from stretching into an epic oration.
  • The other Weaklings gave awesome presentations. – Seriously. I’m super proud of my writing brothers Matt, Bob, and Josh. I learned something from all of them. I actually wished I had taken notes. I was too busy thinking about running the event that I forgot to let some of the content really soak in. If you missed their presentations, you can see a video of the event here. I plan on re-watching all of their presentations.

That’s all for now. I’ll post my iPhone pics from Jot tomorrow. If you attended – Thank you!