Chicago Writers Association: Where Perseverance Pays Off

Apr 1, 2022 | Travel | 2 comments

I had been waiting to attend this writing conference (featured in Writer’s Digest) for two years. My odyssey began with the event’s abrupt cancellation in March 2020, a week before it was scheduled to happen. If you’ll recall, that was the week when everything everywhere unceremoniously shut down, leaving us all wondering what the #$%@ just happened.

The conference was rescheduled in 2021, then rescheduled again for March 2022. With the luck of the Irish still coloring the Chicago River a bright emerald green, I crossed my fingers, packed my suitcase, and hit the road.

This was my first full-on conference since Covid began (the Key West Literary Seminar was just dipping a toe in the water-literally and figuratively!). It was a sold-out event and I have to say it was well worth the wait to hear Executive Director Samantha Hoffman welcome us all to Chicago, the Warwick Allerton Hotel, and the third Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.

samantha hoffman

There were so many incredible writers and speakers in writing-related fields to choose from. I’ll share a few highlights from my Sunday workshops but you’ll have to attend the conference yourself in 2023 to see what I mean!

First up was “Creative Techniques to Keep Those Ideas Flowing” with Brendan Sullivan. I found his talk quite inspirational, given that my last blog post “Filling your Creative Well in the Finger Lakes”, focused on the exact same topic. Brendan shared,

Ten ways to generate creativity

  • Spend time alone in an outdoor activity
  • Take a class on any topic
  • Read a book someone else recommended
  • Eat at a restaurant with food you’ve never tried before
  • Travel and experience different places as much as possible
  • Bring a notepad and pen everywhere! Or, use your phone to take notes.
  • Invite an interesting person to lunch or out for a walk, drink, or coffee (There was an uber-funny story involving the men’s room accompanying this one!).
  • Join a book club
  • Attend a cultural event
  • Meditate or just spend time doing nothing.

Next came one of my favorite author panels, featuring Nancy Johnson, Elizabeth Wetmore, and Ann Garvin, and moderated by Randy Richardson, CWA

They discussed countless fascinating things so it’s hard to pick what to share with you, but I’ll give it a try! Here are a few quotes that I found especially meaningful:

  • Author Laurie Moore was Ann Garvin’s inspiration to become a writer because “She helped me see that you can write funny and sad in one sentence.” I would love to be able to do that.
  • According to Elizabeth Wetmore, “Charlotte’s Web was the first book I read and loved. Then I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved and I wanted so badly to write something that beautiful.” Who among us hasn’t wanted this at one time or another?
  • Nancy Johnson explaining how she found her writer’s voice. “I was bullied in third grade by other girls which caused me to withdraw and lose my voice. Publishing The Kindest Lie was what let me regain it.” Turning a negative experience into a positive one.
  • How Ann Garvin lost, and rediscovered, her voice. “I tried to blend in, assimilate, and fit in-this didn’t help me develop a writing voice…I had to embrace what I am…If you hate me, you’ll hate my writing!” That’s the spirit!
  • What about beta readers? Elizabeth Wetmore looks for diversity in her readers-choosing a playwright, a poet, or readers who never wanted to be writers but who love to read. Agreed!
  • “It’s always about discovery,” Nancy Johnson notes when asked if she knows where the story will go from the start. “I wrote an entire first draft with Midnight as a Black boy. People didn’t connect with the story until I turned him into a White boy.” Courageous (and effective) response to a challenging writing dilemma.
small press publishers

Last, but not least, was “Meet the Small Presses, featuring Rick Kaempfer (Eckhartz Press), Jerry Brennan (Tortoise Books), and John Manos and Jay Amberg (Amika Press). Each publisher was also a published author giving them a unique perspective on the writing industry. One extremely helpful takeaway was their top writing “dos and don’ts.


  • Know who your audience is, who will buy the book.
  • Follow all submission guidelines and use due diligence.
  • Take your work seriously, because if you don’t, who will?
  • Edit-polish the manuscript to the best of your ability and reread it before you send it.
  • Be persistent.
  • Remember that an author’s excitement is one of the key reasons a book gets published.


  • Argue with rejections or take them personally
  • Send a first draft
  • Submit something that’s too long
  • Lose your sense of humor!

I enjoyed my trip to Chicago so much that I’m already planning for my next conference at the end of April. And this time I won’t forget my business cards!

What conferences will you be attending in 2022?



    • Sue Henninger

      You’re welcome Ann!


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