What We Learned in Hartford

you, the columnist

By Dave Lieber
Columnist, The Dallas Morning News
Originally published in The Columnist members-only newsletter

Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

Two months after one of the best-attended conferences in recent NSNC history, I wondered: what was the main takeaway for attendees? I polled them, and here’s what they told me:

Cynthia Stead, Cape Cod Times: “Columnists are all compulsive communicators. Editors do not necessarily appreciate story arcs in pieces on municipal taxation. And every other columnist in America has written or is working on a book, so I better get busy.”

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, Newsday: “Two months ago I went to a conference? Oh! [Speakers Alan] Zweibel, [Dave] Barry, [Gina] Barreca. Outstanding pros who are infinitely inspiring.”

Michelle Freed, Indianapolis Star: “When it comes to writers, talent is a relative term.”

Peggy Sanders, The Rocky Mountain Fence Post: “When a member asked if we have Internet in South Dakota, I wondered if NSNC thinks we still use smoke signals to communicate.”

Jack Walsh, King Features: “I wondered why the beer disappeared so quickly in the hospitality suite.”

Kathy Eliscu, Maine Women Magazine: “I have plenty to write about and say in a sell-able way, and if I can lay off the chocolate long enough, I’m golden.”

Jerry Zezima, The Stamford Advocate: “I came away with plenty of great information, a lot of new friends and, last but not least, two bottles of City Steam beer.”

Rick Horowitz, Prime Prose: “Bring a bigger umbrella.”

Bill Tammeus, National Catholic Reporter, Presbyterian Outlook, Kansas City Star:
“Dave Lieber’s V-shaped graphic illustrating the trajectory of stories. (And meeting an Australian columnist.)”

Rose Valenta, Senior Wire: “After all these years, Heloise finally got the best of Superman at the NSNC Scholarship auction.”

Cathy Turney, The Concordia: “The towels, the soaps, the radio. Correction – the soaps didn’t last two months. Seriously, my best takeaway was meeting and networking with the greatest assemblage of brilliant writers and humorists in one place.”

Barb Best, Alltop Humor: “You’ve got to be something beyond the words on the paper. Also producer and writer Alan Zweibel.”

Suzette Martinez Standring, GateHouse Media: “Inspired by the spontaneous, storytelling style of Mark Twain, contestants Stu Bykofsky and Jerry Zezima each took one quick look at five (very random!) items and each concocted a complete story on the spot. Imaginative. Engaging. Told with authority. I thought, ‘Column deadlines. That’s how it’s done.'”

Jessie Rifkin, UConn Daily Campus: “John Avlon’s talk about Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns taught me that the best newspaper columnists can be as great writers as the poets or novelists we all grow up reading in school.”

Dan St.Yves, Calgary Herald: “My takeaway was on a wall in a museum area in the Old State House, ‘What We Do Is History.’ In small or large ways, what we do contributes to our histories. We have the good fortune to document that, and in some cases, help shape it.”

Elissa C. Rosenthal, freelance: “As a first timer, I was nervous about what the conference would be like. Would anyone talk to me? Would I feel welcome? Would the veterans pay any attention to a little ole newbie like me? The answers were yes, yes, and yes. The conference offered fun as well as fabulous writing and marketing tips. But the best part was the conference attendees and the presenters mingling in a spirit of camaraderie… a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and famous authors chit-chatting with newly initiated bloggers. That hasn’t happened at any writing conference I’ve ever been to before.”

Joani Foster, freelance: “Mark Twain ‘showed up every day.’ He touched us then and now by  being able to see through the crack that lets in the light while writing in a ironic tone about human truths.”

Lisa Smith Molinari, Military Spouse Magazine: “Public speaking is a good way for columnists to gain name recognition, market books, make connections and earn extra income; joining a local chapter of the National Speakers Association or a Toastmasters Club is a good start.”

And, finally, mine: “That after 36 years of life, that even in a time of industry turmoil, the NSNC is thriving with lively, funny, talented people who can’t get enough of each other.”

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Dave Lieber has written a column for this newsletter since 1995. Read about him at yankeecowboy.com. Contact him at dave@yankeecowboy.com.

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