Monday, April 12, 2010

Getting the Necessary Training by Terry Burns

I have a good friend that very badly wants to be a writer. He has a good feeling for telling a story, but he is ‘too busy’ to be in a writing group or critique group or even participate in some of the online possibilities. And of course a writer’s conference is out of the question. That’s like a person deciding they are going to do brain surgery by following the instructions in an open textbook. Telling a story and learning to write it well enough for it to deserve publication are two different things.

When I started writing I participated in all of the above, took a couple of writing courses at college and the Writer’s Digest Course. I learned my craft for six years before I was competent enough to get a book published, and by that time I had quite a bit of short work published. Now, as an agent, I am sent work all the time by people who have a story, but who are miles away from having it competently written. I see others that are a pretty good book, but there are thousands of good books competing for scarce publishing slots. No, even a good book is not good enough, it takes an exceptional book. It takes a unique story in a unique voice aimed at a good market that is currently acquiring.

I can’t imagine anyone expecting to do something well without getting the training to do it. I still try to write on the side and even after some twenty years of trying to do so I continue to try to learn and improve.

There is no shortage of training available. I just came from the Jerry Jenkins ‘Write for the Soul’ conference in Denver Colorado. It goes along with his Christian Writer’s Guild that has a mission of “equipping the next generation of Christian writers.” Last weekend it was the regional Romance Writers of America conference in Shreveport Louisiana. I work these conferences to try and find those exceptional books I was talking about. I also have been told that one of my spiritual gifts is the ‘gift of encouragement’ and I work them to use it to encourage writers and to pass on things that I believe will help them. Things I have learned from all of my writing training and from all of the conferences and workshops that I’ve attended not to mention the ones I have learned the hard way.

Others I have coming up are the East Texas Christian Writers conference at East Texas Baptist April 9-10, and the Oklahoma Writer’s Federation in Oklahoma City April 29th. May 12-15th it’ll be the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference in Estes Park Colorado, and the SW regional meeting of ACFW in Edmond Oklahoma May 22nd. June 25-26th is the Panhandle Professional Writers in Amarillo Texas and August 2-5th the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland Oregon. Beyond that some others are pending.

I don’t get to pick the conferences that I work but am dependent on being invited. I’ve worked a forty or so other conferences besides these, but there are still some that I haven’t worked but would enjoy getting a chance to do so.

What sort of programs do I do? At present the most popular is “Pitch and Promote like a Pro” based on a month long program done for ACFW (the American Christian Fiction Writers). I have a book coming out on that which will make a nice companion piece for it. A popular feature at conferences is editor and agent panels but at smaller workshops and conferences where that isn’t done I do an “Agent Q & A” that is popular. I do a program on “Making a Living Writing” one on “Being a Christian Writer in a Changing World” which I have also done a couple of times as a keynote. I do a basic program for fledging writers on “So You Always Wanted to Write?” and one on “Using Fiction to Spread God’s Word.” There are others I haven’t been doing lately I could dust off and trot back out or as with a recent conference could design a couple of new ones to fit.

Every writer should ask themselves if they are getting the necessary training to be successful at getting published or if they think they just “know how to write a good book,” maybe because they have read so many. And when have we gotten enough training that we know what we are doing and can begin to teach? My opinion is that any teacher who is not also continuing to learn will soon be presenting stale or outdated material. I was fascinated at the Denver conference to look over and notice Jerry Jenkins making notes during Max Lucado’s program on writing. If a bestselling writer like Jerry is still working to improve his craft what excuse could the rest of us possibly have?


Cecelia Dowdy said...

Writers conferences are a great way to network and learn about the craft. I go whenever I can, and I can honestly say that my first few sales were the direct result of contacts that I made at writers conferences. When I recommend these conferences to new writers, they usually say they don't have time to go, or, they can't make the monetary committment to attend.

Lynda Schab said...

Great post, Terry! There is definitely never a point when we know all there is to know about writing. I love learning about the craft and will do so until I can no longer lift my fingers to the keyboard.

Kathleen L. Maher said...

Excellent advice, taken to heart. Nice blog post.

writer jim said...


I suggest after reading this post, that you go to Terry Burns personal website; to which I commented:


I really liked reading about God leading you so specifically. OBEYING God in just one small thing could easily accomplish more than a lifetime of our own best efforts.
The instances you mentioned are, in my opinion, what the Bible refers to as "laboring together WITH GOD."

Patti Shene said...

Terry, your post was excellent, packed with wonderful advice. I agree that the Lord has definitely called you to be an encourager. Look forward to seeing you in Estes Park.

patriciazell said...

Last year, I attended the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton where God completely upended my concept of getting my book published. I learned so many new things that I've applied to my content and I have made good progress in a year. I would also recommend Michael Hyatt's blog ( for current information in publishing. As CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, he has so much to share. His posts helped me set up my own blog, so reading what he writes is helpful to say the least.