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March 20, 2018

How Students Can Benefit from Professional Programs

By Cat Gullotta

I’ve never been to a program with professional speakers about topics I actually care about. Yes, I’ve heard the graduation speeches and the parental scoldings, but never ones that would help my career. On Saturday, January 27, the League of Vermont Writers held its annual Winter Program, “New Journeys, New Beginnings.” Since I am a student intern, I got to help with the program and was also able to listen to what advice other writers had to share.

The first speaker was Connie Johnson Hambley, a former lawyer who graduated from Vermont Law School, and current Vice President of Sisters in Crime New England. Using her background in law to explain the logistics, she spoke on how to write a successful legal-thriller. She quoted actual judges on how a lawyer should make their case in court, and how an author should make their case through a mystery novel. “Law school was my writing boot camp,” Connie said to her listeners.

It was inspiring to see how someone could completely change careers from something so stable to something so much more worthwhile (in my eyes, at least). She took her passion for justice and turned it into novels. She was even generous enough to teach others how to do what she did. Connie is a writer I wouldn’t mind looking up to as a student still figuring out her future.

Not only did Connie introduce me to the possibility of legal-thrillers, but graphic novelist J Moulton and comic artist Greg Giordano taught me how to use visual media and dialogue properly. I never thought about comic writing mostly because I can’t draw to save my life. Yet, it was interesting to see that there is a large partnership in this type of creative media. At Champlain College, we idolize group work, and this talk just emphasized how important it really is.

What really stood out to me was when J, the writer in the duo, said, “I have no ceiling when it comes to my aspirations.” I let that sit for a second before realizing that I had never thought that way before. I had always capped my own ideas if they were too ambitious or too time-consuming. But here was a professional telling me that he never holds himself back and that I don’t have to either.

Later, I got the chance to speak with 95-year-old Marie Tedford, who has been with the LVW since the 1970s. “I think it emphasizes how close we are,” said Tedford, who attended the program with one of her daughters, Paula Diaco. After “New Journeys, New Beginnings,” she said, “When you leave a League meeting you always feel vitalized, like you want to go home and do what you do best, which is writing.”

I can only imagine how much Marie has written throughout her life. With so many opportunities both in and out of the League, her work must have only gotten better and better over time. And there she was just as excited to write now as when she first joined. I can only hope that I love writing at 95 as much as she does.

The ending panel consisted of seven representatives from local and regional organizations, as well as President Bobbi Jo Davis and new member, Jean Yeager. The panel itself was a question and answer session with topics ranging from getting a blog started to how to run social media. It was fun to watch the interaction between the audience and speakers; both had advice to share, especially when it came to social media. Some don’t use social media at all and others are adept at it. They shared knowledge not just as teachers and students, but as fellow writers.

Vice President and Panel Moderator, Shawn Anderson, commented, “Building a community right in front of your eyes, people. That’s how it’s done.” Panelists agreed, expressing similar goals to gain a sense of community and support between each other and their organizations.

Panelist and Burlington Writers Workshop Coordinator Deena Frankel added, “My hope is that we will do more collaboration in the future and find the ways that we can create synergy and even more opportunities for writers in Vermont.”

What I hope to see are other students attending professional programs. As young writers, we are always faced with the idea that we may never make an actual career out of what we love doing. But teachers like the ones at this program show that that’s not the only option.

You can be a successful writer, no matter your age. You can have a career doing what inspires you while inspiring others along the way. I just don’t want to be the only one who sees these wonderful speakers. Next time, I plan to bring along some of my fellow writing students to show them what they’ve been missing. 

Cat Gullotta is from Connecticut, but studies writing in Burlington, VT. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Chivomengro, the Paragon Journal, and Canada Quarterly. She spends her downtime with her family, who is often the inspiration behind her poetry and nonfiction work.