The Advantage of Conference Connections

 Lisa Molinari (left) and Suzette Martinez Standring. Photo taken at the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop and used with their permission.

Lisa Molinari (left) and Suzette Martinez Standring. Photo taken at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop and used with their permission.

By Suzette Martinez Standring

2004-06 NSNC president
Thousands (more likely, hundreds) of “friends” and “likes” on social media do impress, but personal connection still reigns.  Nothing beats conversations, shared laughs, and the give-and-take of new ideas. That chance returns with the NSNC’s annual meeting in Los Angeles on June 23-26, 2016.
Back in 2000, I was a novice columnist and an industry know-nothing. As a new NSNC conference attendee, I assumed attending programs and taking notes would prime me to, as the Nike slogan says, “just do it.”
However, the unexpected emerged: new friends who cheered me on with practical advice (compare that to FB emoticons).  In person, I witnessed how columnists “are” – not just what they do. I left with something I didn’t start with, to write with higher purpose.
Column writing never gets easier. The seasoned share the same challenges as the novice, whether it’s writer’s block or adapting to career evolution.  It’s ironic. Columnists write to help others to overcome fear and ignorance. Yet the process forces us to wrestle with our own about writing and where it will lead.
Change could mean writing a different column altogether or expanding into new platforms.  Many NSNC colleagues have “been there, and done that” so why reinvent the wheel?  When they shared challenges they faced, I often asked, “So then what did you do?”
Their triumphs inspired me to reach beyond my humor columns to penning lifestyle, op-ed, and now my syndicated spirituality column. Relationships forged in person led to my authoring two books.  I even met then-syndicated business columnist Don McNay who recently passed, long before he opened RRP International and became my publisher. Through member Dorothy Rosby, I explored Toastmasters.  Mary Curtis is formidable in print and onscreen media and makes me aspire higher.  Dave Lieber role modeled how to manage column writing, books, and  professional speaking.  I’ve learned and applied everything I could, and I’m not the only one who has benefited from the NSNC culture of helping each other. The banquet is laid, so dig in.
So many column genres are covered by members: humor, military life, politics, family, consumer protection, religion, health, how-to, literary reviews and more.  Interested in deepening your own column or how to branch out?  Ask and you shall receive. That’s what I’ve done for sixteen years with the NSNC.
Recently, at an Ontario writers’ conference, a literary agent spoke about query letters, and said “Mention up front how you know the agent, why you’re choosing her.”  For example, a referral or having met the agent are tipping points for an agent to read a query letter further.  Some things never change. The personal connection still carries more weight than “liking” someone’s  page.
Column writing can be lonely and camaraderie is vital.  The NSNC annual meeting is a chance to bounce ideas off kindred spirits, regain footing, and to come back braver.
When steering a leaky boat toward terra firma, it’s a plus to travel with witty, insightful, and helpful NSNC friends.  Together we arrive.
I’ll look for you at the Hotel Angeleno in June.
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Email Suzette Martinez Standring: or visit
She is syndicated with GateHouse Media and the author of The Art of Column Writing andThe Art of Opinion Writing, both award winning books used in university journalism programs.
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