My Midwest Writers Workshop story
I could go on and on about the impact Midwest Writers has had on my life. In some capacity, I’ve been part of MWW for 40+ of its 50 years — an attendee, a presenter, a committee member, and then director. MWW is part of who I am. And I am grateful. And now, my news: I am retiring as Director of Midwest Writers Workshop, passing on my leadership baton.
MWW is all about the people — the faculty, the planners, the writers. My people. My friends. Although I always found all my employments rewarding (as an English composition instructor at Ball State, as owner and operator of my own business, Bigger Writing Services, as an assistant at BSU’s E.B. & Bertha C. Ball Center, helping with Magna cum Murder Festival), I also always had so much passion and energy for my work with Midwest Writers. And the influence and friendship of committee members and authors didn’t just enhance my life, but that of my husband, my sons, my parents.
Here’s what I can tell you about why I love MWW, why attending a writer’s conference can help your writing journey…. or how I became one of the first MWW success stories ….
I never pitched an agent. I never wrote a proposal. I never wrote a query. I never mailed the manuscript to the publisher. I never submitted any sample writing, any biography, any synopsis. I never followed the professional protocols for turning a manuscript into a book. And yet, one day I received a phone call from an editor at Fleming H. Revell publishers. An editor I had never met. A publishing house I had never submitted to.
“I love the first chapter and the chapter The Date, and we want to publish your manuscript,” he said. (This call came two weeks before I got married. It was a very good summer!)
What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript? Not your typical path to publication. But a pathway made possible because of my trips through Midwest Writers Workshop.
It was 1976 and I was a 20-year-old college student with a desire to write and an idea for a book, an English major at Ball State University. That summer, an (accidental?) bumping into a friend-of-a-friend, a casual conversation about writing, a mention of a writers’ conference (in my very city, at my very university), a leap of faith, a saying “yes” to a scholarship, to a new adventure, all led to me sitting in a classroom in Ball State’s Carmichael Hall, listening to author and humorist Tom Mullen talk about writing for the inspirational marketplace.
I had found a mentor.
Life-changing. That’s what Midwest Writers Workshop was for me. That class, that creative environment, that support and encouragement from faculty and committee and participants was like water and sunlight and nourishment. It made me grow. I was hooked on the importance of a writer’s conference, the value of Midwest Writers Workshop. For the next few years, I registered and signed up for classes in nonfiction and poetry. I learned to be a better writer, listening, asking questions, taking notes. I kept growing.
I found writer-friends. And become part of the MWW community.
Then in 1979, the inspirational writing class I attended was taught by Floyd Thatcher, an editor with Word Publishing. He was friendly (just like Tom and all MWW faculty seemed to be!), offered keen advice on tightening my writing, and believed in my story.
Eventually, after rewrites and rewrites, I summoned enough courage to mail my (unnamed) manuscript to him, with a new opening chapter. When he called and said, “I was moved by your story, but it’s not quite what our company publishes,” I almost dropped the phone. Until I heard his next sentence. “But I hope you don’t mind, I mailed your manuscript to another editor I know.” Then I did drop the phone.
A few weeks later, Victor Oliver, editor at Fleming H. Revell, called.
And I had found a publisher.
And I became not just a writer, but an author.
This path of mine to publication, this walkway was created with stone after stone. Courage. Registering for the workshop. Courage. Asking for advice. Courage. Revising editing improving. Learning. Courage. Sending out my words. Courage and hope. My story. Attending MWW was my right first step out of the sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that was chock full of resources, connections, inspiration. And above all, friendships.
And now, as I head into retirement as MWW director, I am proud to have been their Official Cheerleader.
Praising, clapping, rooting for, and seeking to empower others in their writing journey. Personality testing has classified me as an extrovert with traits well suited for cheering, as an Enneagram 2, a Helper: enthusiastic, spontaneous, energetic, and understanding. Those tests indicated that I readily give affirmation and encouragement, that I focus on possibilities and have a contagious enthusiasm for ideas and people and activities. That I’m passionate and love to help other people explore their creative potential, what motivates them, what inspires them, and what they envision achieving in life.
In other words, I’m a cheerleader.
Sometimes I feel like Jenny in Forrest Gump, cheering and yelling, “Run, Forrest, run!” Sometimes I feel like those in the final scene of the sports classic, cheering and chanting, “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” Sometimes I feel like the crowd cheering and shouting, “Rocky, Rocky!” Always raising the spirits of others, always urging them on. Sometimes it’s with the message: no matter what life throws at them, they should get back up and carry on and that they are responsible for the direction their lives take. If they want something in life, go and get it.
Sometimes it’s a reminder that even an underdog can have his day, and that they can do anything they put their minds to. Sometimes it’s an understanding for the struggles that hardship brings and the unbridled joy of seeing all their hard work and perseverance pay off.
I’ve taken great pleasure in watching writers see their dreams come true. It’s as if their dreams become mine, and my investment in them and cheering for them is real and significant. Their dreams take up residence in my heart. I cheer and do (mental) cartwheels when they succeed, and I feel disappointment for them when roadblocks stand in their way.
This is what I know. Every(one) writer needs encouragement. Every(one) writers needs cheering.
As The Official Cheerleader for the Midwest Writers Workshop for decades, I’m telling you that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve cheered for you and encouraged others to cheer for you. And I’ve believed in you when you didn’t know if you could do it. Plain and simple. I believe you are a winner. You can do this thing.
Through all these many years, through all these Midwest Writers Workshops, it has been my great honor to serve a cheerleader for so many on their journey as aspiring writers to published authors.
I will savor the dreams come true on behalf of my writer friends. Nothing compares to cheering them and watching them cross the finish line—battle weary and out of breath. But doing the thing they love.
There is nothing quite like being a cheerleader. And this Scholarship/Author Event Fund will help continue my cheerleading.
Thank you, my MWW friends.
(In the spirit of Literary Citizenship, get the book, read the book, review the book.)
You will be missed!
Jama, I am sorry for MWW’s loss of your many talents, but I am grateful that you shared those talents for so many years. It has been my pleasure to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I caught the writing bug from your faculty early on. Through my years of attendance (first as a participant and later as faculty), I was able to hone my love of writing into a love of having written, then into a love of having published ten books of my own. Through it all, your shining smile and energy have inspired me.
I wish you the best in your retirement and look forward to hearing more of your happy exploits!
Thank you, Wendy, I’m thankful MWW brought us together as friends!
Beautiful, Jama. Thank you for your decades of service to writers. You and the Midwest Writers Workshop have made such a difference in so many lives, including mine.
Jane, I will always be thankful for the blessing of your friendship and support!
Thank you for all you have done for writers, published and aspiring. I had the opportunity to meet you through our mutual friend, Wendy Beckman, and I’m so happy about that! Best of luck on your new adventures!
Oh, thank you…… so happy to know you and Jack!