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Interview with Kelsey Timmerman: Turning Real Stories into a Real Career

Kelsey Timmerman is a traveler with a writing problem. He met the agent who sold his first book, Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop in the summer of 2007. Kelsey’s latest book is Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Condé Nast Portfolio and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the co-founder of the Facing Project, a nationwide storytelling project that activates writers to tell stories that strengthen community. He has spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, played PlayStation in Kosovo, farmed on four continents, taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras, and in another life, worked as a SCUBA instructor in Key West, Florida.

Kelsey will be leading the  Part I nonfiction intensive at MWW. We caught up with Kelsey for this week’s E-pistle.

MWWAt MWW you are teaching a nonfiction intensive session titled “Turning Real Stories into a Real Career.” Could fiction writers benefit from this intensive as well?

KT: Totally. I’m jealous of fiction writers because they can travel between their ears where they aren’t threatened by deadly venomous snakes, paramilitary forces, and Ghanaian death buses, all of which I have encountered. Also, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. But from a career perspective, I often feel sorry for fiction writers. There are way fewer places to publish fiction. Nonfiction is always about real-world issues. However, fiction writers can leverage their real-world experiences and research surrounding these issues to get published in magazines, newspapers, and other outlets. Each published clip, besides being a great ego boost, is another shiny thing to pepper in your query letter to a future agent or editor. Nonfiction writing builds an author’s authority and platform. It also is more likely to pay! All writers can benefit from writing and publishing non-fiction.

MWWWalk us through your path to publishing.

KT: I graduated with a degree in anthropology, which I quickly put to use as a SCUBA diving instructor and world traveler. I started to write about my experiences and shortly after had a weekly travel column in the Key West The Newspaper. I got paid $0 per column. It was the world’s most expensive hobby, and I love it! That column was my grad school. I had to write 1,000 publishable words every single week. It was my reason to write. (In my session we’ll be exploring our individual reasons to write that keep us writing.) After two years of writing the column, I reworked some of them and they got picked up by publications that people had heard of and that paid. And then, of course, I went to Bangladesh because my underwear was made there and I wanted to meet the people who made them. This was followed by trips to Cambodia, China, and Ethiopia. I had an agent interested in my Where Am I Wearing? idea as a book, and then I met another agent at my first MWW, with whom I eventually signed. A few months later, I had a book deal. Three months later I finished the book. A year later that book was out, and suddenly, after eight years of working at the writing thing, I had a career as a writer and as a speaker. And because everyone always wants to know. . . . Yes, this is what I do for a living.  I support my wife, who is the real hero in all of this, and our two kids.

MWW: You’ve been a column writer, freelancer, author, and speaker. Is it important for writers to diversify?

KT: You bet! I looked at my career as a multi-front attack. I advanced the column thing as far as I could, and then I shifted to freelance work. Freelance clips led to books, which led to more freelancing work and speaking engagements. They all feed one another. Yet, if I would’ve said, “I’m only a columnist,” and given up when my travel column literally  had been rejected hundreds of times, I would be living someone else’s dream. You are a writer. You aren’t just a fiction writer, a YA author, or a literary journalist. You are a storyteller.

MWW: What will students walk away with from your intensive?

KT: I’m not sure this has been done before at MWW, but I will personally give you a, “you’ll get published guarantee.” Every attendee will leave with clear goals and a plan of attack to execute those goals. If after one year, a student believes he or she followed the plan and has not been published, I will personally reimburse them the $150 fee for Part I.  (Note this isn’t an MWW guarantee; in fact, Jama will probably try to talk me out of this. This is me paying you back if you aren’t happy.) You. Will. Get. Published. I guarantee it! The bar for nonfiction writing is rather low.  We’ll talk about how to exceed expectations and share a few tools from fiction writing. We want your work to stand out. You have to write well before anyone will publish anything. Next, we’ll explore why you write, and how to discover your unique areas of expertise. And then, we’ll lay out a plan of who you’ll pitch (agents, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc), how you want to be published, and set tangible writing and career development goals. We’ll work through a writer’s business plan and we might even bust out a spreadsheet or two. Writing careers rarely happen by accident.

MWW: What are you looking forward to the most about this summer’s conference?

KT: I grew as a writer by attending MWW, and I really enjoy watching as others grow their love for writing and their writing careers. For me, the conference is less of a workshop than it is a family reunion. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones. Connect with Kelsey:  Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Being brave is part of chasing your dream of being a writer. Be brave. Register today for #mww14!

Part I Intensive Sessions are filling up! Don’t miss this outstanding faculty, this information-packed schedule, this opportunity to pitch to agents, this time of networking and participating in all that is the MWW Community. Register today!

 

MWW: Helping writers live a pants-optional lifestyle since 1973

Kelsey Timmerman, a member of the MWW committee, is the author of two books, and the co-founder of The Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community.  He met his agent at our summer conference in 2007. You can follow his global writing adventures at his blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  

I’ve been a committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop since 2010. I know what you’re thinking: He does it for the groupies and the money.

After all, my boxer shorts have their own Facebook page made by a MWW attendee. But minus my underwear’s 32 virtual fans, alas, there are no groupies.

As for cold hard cash, I and the other committee members are volunteers. We typically meet at least once per month for at least 90 minutes to plan the summer workshop, mini-workshops, and other events. I’m guessing that each of us puts in at least 40+ hours of work each year. If you factor in the hours Jama, our director, works, that number averages out to about 4,000 hours annually. Some of our members drive hours to attend the monthly meetings, others leave work early, and I even put on pants and brush my teeth.

I’m exaggerating a bit. I wear pants and brush my teeth every day. But here’s the thing…I don’t have to. That’s right, I don’t have to go to an office every day. I could live a pants-optional life at home, all thanks to the committee members before me.

In 2007, I attended MWW and I met the agent who sold my first book Where Am I Wearing? That book led to another book Where Am I Eating? Now, between writing and speaking about my writing, I have a full-blown career.

I admit, I think I may have joined the committee to repay this debt, but I soon realized that the members of the committee were driven by much more than a sense of duty. There is something amazing about being a part of the stories of other writers as they seek and succeed at the writing life.

We get emails on a regular basis from folks who’ve seen their writing dreams come true, and credit MWW for helping them. It’s not even the thanks that we do it for.

I think the best thing I can compare the reward of being on the committee to is teaching my daughter to ride a bike, which I did (for the win) on Father’s Day this past year. She never thanked me. She never needed to. Watching her navigate our street through puddles, around potholes, and find that balance and pleasure that comes from reaching her goal was thanks enough.

There are plenty of puddles and potholes on the written road. Just keep pedaling. This is what makes those times when we don’t fall on our face so rewarding.

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Midwest Writers’ Workshop, but we are always looking for new ways to help writers. That’s why this blog is about to change.

You are about to see a lot more of us — members of the committee — here. We are poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, freelancers, and professors. We write for profession and passion. I’m honored to be on the committee with these folks and I’m eager to read their posts about their writing lives, what happens behind the scenes of our conference, and their tips of the trade.

I think I speak for the entire committee when I say we all want you to write, write better, and enjoy writing more.

I speak for myself when I say, I want you to have a pants-optional life.

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Mini-conference in Cicero, Ind.

Think spring! 

Make plans to attend the Midwest Writers’ Mini-conference, March 16 at the Hamilton North Public Library, 209 W. Brinton Street in Cicero, Ind., where authors will share their hottest writing tips!

Register early! Seating is limited. Midwest Writers Workshop will conduct a mini-conference, “Getting Serious About Your Writing,” Saturday, March 16, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Hamilton North Public Library in Cicero, located in Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis.

Cicero Library

Three writers will be presenters at the mini-conference, which will include talks about getting published, participation in break-out groups and a panel question-and-answer session.

This 3-hour intensive mini-conference is just $10, and registration is required. Light refreshments will be served.

The speakers include: Kelsey Timmerman, whose debut book, Where Am I Wearing?, was chosen as Ball State University’s Common Reader for freshmen, and whose second book Where Am I Eating? will be released in April; Terence Faherty, author of two mystery series, a winner of the Macavity Award, and a short fiction author whose stories appear regularly in mystery magazines; Megan Powell, whose debut urban fantasy novel, No Peace for the Damned, was contracted through an agent she snagged at Midwest Writers Workshop; Moderator will be Cathy Shouse, workshop coordinator of special events.

Faherty Portrait Powell Megan Kelsey

Each mini-conference attendee will receive a $20-off voucher for their registration for 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop scheduled at Ball State University July 25-27th.

Register here. To receive further information, please phone 317-984-5623.