Luther Alumni Magazine

7 takeaways from the 2016 Luther College Writers Festival

Erik Larson (left), author of bestsellers such as
Erik Larson (left), author of bestsellers such as "Devil in the White City" and "Dead Wake," has an onstage discussion with David Faldet ’79, Luther English professor, during the Farwell Distinguished Lecture on the opening evening of the festival. Photo by Kien Dao '20.


In September Luther hosted its fourth writers festival. Authors who spoke on the craft of writing were of the literary caliber for which one rolls out the red carpet.

New York Times bestselling historical narrative author Erik Larson. National Book Award nominee, author, poet, and essayist Charles Baxter. Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winning novelist Jane Hamilton. Acclaimed author Bret Anthony Johnston, who teaches creative writing at Harvard. In addition, there were a number of excellent published poets and writers of various genres. All had congregated to expose the parts of their brains that aspiring writers find so precious: those tender mechanisms that make this writing machine work.

As an alumna of Luther's English program, as a freelance magazine journalist, and as a generalist writer and lover of books, I was transfixed by the keynote speeches, the panel discussions, the breakout sessions—which all took place over the course of 24 hours. Here are my top seven festival takeaways.

1. Writers block? Look no further than the historic archives for inspiration.

According to Erik Larson, “Every day [in the past] is like a detective story.” And you can be Sherlock’s Watson—translating history’s details with a storyteller’s touch, bringing old ghosts and events to life again.

2. Write from a place of generosity.

Especially when it comes to writing about your family. Know that the truth is always more interesting than anything you could fabricate, but it’s so hard to tackle when writing from personal experience.

3. Strive to avoid adjectives.

After you write something, go back and delete all the adjectives. See if you miss them. You might like the sparseness.

4. Writing is about doing a little more than you thought you could.

Don’t quit after a few miles; this is a marathon.

5. Research publishers well.

Ready to start pitching your book to publishers? Great! But make sure you do your homework and know what genre and style of books that publisher prints. Be sure your book fits there.

6. Sorry, but good writing just takes time.

Expect writing to be a long, slow process. That’s the price of admission. Pay up.

7. Insulate yourself against the idea that writing is an indulgence.

In the conference’s closing remarks, Bret Anthony Johnston pointed out that “the world will throw all kinds of things at you that will make it easy to give up writing. But remember that you’re giving up indulgences in order to be a writer.”