Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Brief Report Card on the Writers Conference

Lawyer Dave Cohan (left) received a perfect score from students.^

Your favorite editor (lower right) talks to the packed house at the opening night session.^

I promised myself I'd make at least a quick attempt at a wrap-up of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, held at Hollins today, and I'll give it a shot through tired eyes and aching feet.

Here are some quick observations (after having absorbed the stack of critiques left by the students):
  • There were about 100 students, which was equal to last year's count.
  • For the second straight year, we will be able to give a Hollins Horizon student a scholarship (this year it's likely to be about $1,000). Elizabeth Jones is the recipient and she's a dandy.
  • The only real complaint I heard (to my face) all day was that there was too much to do. Same complaint as the past two years. (As you'll see below, there were others, but they weren't related to me in person.)
  • The most popular presenter at the conference (all "excellent" scores) was a lawyer. Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore's Dave Cohan's work was praised as useful, organized and marvelously delivered. NPR essayist Janis Jaquith missed a perfect score (and she had both a keynote address and a class to judge) by one vote. Her keynote address was consistently praised for its excellence. The single demerit: one student thought she talked too much about radio (her essay was "The Radio Essay"). High marks also went to Roanoke Times reporter Rex Bowman, Handshake 2.0 owner Anne Clelland, Hollins librarian Maryke Barber, W&L Journalism professor Doug Cumming and Hollins English professor Jeanne Larsen.
  • The four social media classes were heavily attended and generally liked. The persistent complaint was that there was too much Twitter discussion in the "Introduction" and that some of the information was simply too technical for beginners. Still, there was a great deal of interest and substantial praise (the crowd just loved Anne Clelland).
  • Those in attendance wanted snacks and other types of drinks besides beer, water and wine at the wine reception. They wanted other drinks besides coffee on Saturday and, again, wanted snacks.
  • There were a number of complaints about classes that were overfilled and the complainers wanted bigger rooms. One said the building was too cold. Several had issues with what they thought was a lack of technology (no overhead slides in the photo class, for example).
  • The most consistent request for additional classes was for more information on publishing and for some exhibitors.
From my perspective, the conference was quite good and the atmosphere supportive and almost electric. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciate all of you who showed up.

If we have one next year--and that is still a question--we will try to have some exhibitors, bring in some different speakers (and some of the favorites from this session) and make it more user-friendly.


  1. Thank you for organizing this conference and for your dedication to the craft of writing. Both are inspiring. This was my first year in attendance, and I hope it will not be my last!

  2. The students' enthusiasm level matched their numbers. Again and again I had conversations with people whose largest frustration was that they wanted to attend two and sometimes all three of the scheduled sessions at a particular time.

    Not even the concerns about the future of the craft of writing as a profession, much less the ability to earn a living from the profession, seemed to dampen their spirits and desire to write, and that speaks well for both the students, and the conference's ability to help them realize their desires.

    Well done Dan, and Hollins, and all involved in putting together and pulling off the best conference yet.

  3. The writer's conference, as usual, was fun, informative and inspirational. I loved being surrounded by such a warm and wonderful group of talented artists. Jeanne Larson's course was phenomenal. Thank you Dan and all the others involved in putting this together. I look forward to next year's conference!

  4. Been paid to write since the mid-1950s. This year's writer's conference was one of the best yet, perhaps because I'm now faced with learning to make sense through social media with its unique communication constraints and structure. Tip of the hat to all involved for creating a great learning experience.

  5. eda: your message came out in Chinese characters, if you want to resubmit. dan

  6. Dan, the conference was fabulous and ridiculously cheap at $50. I have no complaints except that I could NOT attend all the sessions that I wanted to. Next year, I plan to sign up with a team so that we can divide and conquer and share insights/notes at the end.

    Take care and get some well deserved rest!