Lyle Lovett sings a song with the refrain, “Up in Indiana where the tall corn grows”, and he could have been talking of Muncie. Located about an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Muncie is the home of Ball State University and more importantly the annual Midwest Writers Workshop, which is where the “once upon a time” comes in.
Once upon a time, in 1973 to be exact, a dedicated and determined group of people, including author Dorothy Hamilton and Dr. Earl Conn of Ball State, came up with the germ of an idea for a writers’ conference to be held at the University. This conference was to develop, educate, and encourage authors in the craft of writing. They got the community involved, and MWW was born. Over the years people left the committee, joined the committee, and volunteered to help in any way possible. As a result this workshop, small by choice and sold out early this year, is one of the best in the country. It is certainly the best I’ve attended.
There’s still an aura of fairy tale magic at Midwest Writers Workshop. Where else can a first time attendee and an established author sit at a table over coffee and talk about everything from ideas to first drafts to agent pitches and query letters, share memories that are good, funny, and sometimes not either but remain as a learning experience. The instructors are shining stars, whether they write thrillers, mysteries, memoirs, history or self-help; there is something and someone for every attendee. And they’re accessible. Find an author or agent in the Conservatory or Assembly Hall or corridor and they’re happy to spend a minute or two (oftentimes more) answering a question or listening to an idea. That’s why they come. (Just don’t stalk them in the bathroom or interrupt one of their scheduled pitch sessions…not the right thing to do) Oh…and if there’s an author there who found their own fairy tale at a previous MWW? He or she is always willing and happy to check a pitch, look at a page or two, or simply cheer you on as you head through the Perilous Forest of Pitches and Queries to reach your own happy ending.
These days, the fairy tale also includes learning how to publish in what Jane Friedman calls “The Brave New World”, and features Social Media Tutoring with some of Ball State’s best…the resident Geek Squad. Don’t know how to work a blog? Set up an appointment. Worried about your platform? Talk to someone who can steer you through the basics. Not sure about e-publishing? There are people who are willing, able and, most important, patient. Ask me. I know.
Did I mention food and fellowship? Lots and lots of that as well. But you must be brave. Walk up to someone, say hello and ask what he or she writes. Agents don’t bite (as a shy person it took me a while to digest that fact) and neither do the author-instructors. If you have any qualms, start with Kelsey Timmerman, one of the funniest and laid-back authors I’ve ever met. He found his dream there.
The three days loom large when you walk into the Conservatory
at the Alumni Center and see a crowd of strangers, but suddenly it’s the evening of the third day, the last toast has been made and award been given, and it’s time to say goodbye and pack for the trip home. Time flies…the days are long and full of the craft of writing. Whether your fairy tale has come true, or whether you’ve simply had some guidance to move you along the path, the experience is one you won’t forget.
Take a chance. The ride is always worth the risk.