So You Want To Be A Writer?

By Hywania Thompson | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun

Laurie Scheer has had many titles—author, network television producer, vice president of programming, professional speaker, instructor and, in her own words, media goddess. Scheer, a faculty associate at UW–Madison Continuing Studies and director of the UW Writers’ Institute, also serves as a writing mentor. Scheer shares with students her experiences, offers encouragement and helps open doors “so people can realize their goals.”

Scheer mentors non-fiction writers, something she knows well. She’s written her own books, including “Creative Careers in Hollywood” and “The Writer’s Advantage: A Toolkit for Mastering Your Genre.”

At any time, Scheer mentors up to 30 students. It’s rewarding but also challenging at times. “The toughest part of being a mentor is working with talented individuals whose self-confidence sometimes stands in their way,” says Scheer. “The good part about being a mentor is working with any writer who does understand that they have something. For them to write back and say ‘yeah you were right, people really like this,’ that’s the really good part.”

Scheer’s impact on the writers she’s worked with is apparent. Christine DeSmet, faculty associate with UW–Madison Continuing Studies, says Scheer has helped many people get past their fear of writing. “It’s tough to share material with editors, agents, publishers, and readers and reviewers who are judging your writing. It can feel like you’re being judged personally. Laurie is sympathetic to those feelings and she always dives in with a writer to develop a plan,” DeSmet says.

As director of the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute, which turns 30 this year, Scheer stays plugged in to writing and publishing trends, and incorporates the information into an annual conference. The event offers various workshops and panels, networking and an opportunity for writers to share their work and get feedback.

DeSmet says Scheer has taken the conference into the national realm. “She’s expanded everything about it, adding workshops, practice pitches, one-on-one meetings, master classes, the open mic opportunity and book fair. People come back every year because they know Laurie’s got something new again and they don’t want to miss it,” says DeSmet.

The Writers’ Institute boasts many success stories. Middleton resident and mystery writer Nick Chiarkas, self-help book author Laurie Buchanan, Heather Shumaker, who writes about conservation, and local novelist and humor writer Ann Garvin are just a few authors who previously attended the conference. Chiarkas, Shumaker and Garvin are speaking at this year’s event.

While Scheer’s mentoring work is done with those enrolled in the UW–Madison Continuing Education Writing Program, those not in the program can find a mentor, too—you just have to determine what kind of writing you want to do, then find a mentor who specializes in that kind of writing.

Her advice to those who want to write is simple: write. “If you think you want to write, write,” she says. “There’s a lot of people that have the main question, ‘do I have a book in me, do I have a memoir in me, do I have a short story in me, do I have a poem in me?’ Just that question of ‘I think I might like to be a writer,’ is a good place to start.”

Visit uwwritersinstitute.wisc.edu for more information on this year’s conference.

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