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Anyone who writes sooner or later comes to appreciate Mark Twainís apology for writing a long letter because he didnít have time to write a short one.

Writers do sometimes tend to go on and on. Itís usually easier than being concise and brief. For example, after Iíve interviewed terrific, quotable sources on an interesting topic and have typed pages of notes, Iím delighted if Iíve been assigned to fill two magazine pages. Itís more work to boil it all down to one page of whatís really important.

But help for my - and your - writing skills and editorial discipline is on the way, courtesy of the Agricultural Publications Summit. The conference for ag writers and photographers, to take place Aug. 1-4, 2001, in Grand Rapids, Mich., marks the third joint effort of the American Agricultural Editorsí Association (AAEA), the Livestock Publications Council and APA: The Association of Leading Ag Media Companies.

So to practice brevity, here - in 112 words - is why you should attend the Summit: You will learn to write better. You will learn to take better pictures. You will learn how to think like Leonardo da Vinci. You will learn how to get along with your publisher (which may require being able to think like DaVinci). You will laugh at anecdotes by Helen Thomas, who recently stepped down as UPIís long-time White House correspondent. Youíll be uplifted by the stories of a Buchenwald concentration camp survivor (one of only 10 people who escaped). Youíll hear the latest on international ag issues such as foot and mouth disease. On top of all that, youíll have the chance to meet with ag editors and publishers from across the country.

I hope thatís all the persuasion you need. To register or learn more information, call AAEA at 952/758-6502 or visit

But while you wait for August, hereís a preview of some of the sessions.

The Summit will open with two clinics on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Paula LaRocque, assistant managing editor and writing coach for The Dallas Morning News, will teach a writing clinic. Phillipe Gross, co-author of The Tao of Photography - Seeing Beyond Seeing, will offer a photo clinic that combines lecture, slide shows, how-toís and one-on-one critique.

LaRocque spent 10 years teaching at universities before the News approached her to try an "experiment" as staff writing coach. The experiment continues 20 years later, she says.

"It turned out to be a perfect job for me," she says. "The challenge is Iím always learning new things. You have to keep refining your lexicon for talking about the subtleties of writing."

As writing coach, LaRocque does whatever the newspaperís 600 to 700 writers and editors need, including coordinating a mentoring program, a brown-bag seminar and an in-house newsletter. One of the most rewarding activities - and one ag publication staffs could adopt - is a book club to review books on writing and editing.

For the clinic, LaRocque will present nuts-and-bolts material on achieving clarity, accuracy and brevity in straight, informational writing, including how to work faster on deadline.

Jim Webster of the Webster Agricultural Letter will lead a breakout session on writing short copy and effective sidebars. "Writing tight takes time and preparation," he says. "It requires organized thinking and mastery of the topic. And it demands clear, simple writing - an appreciation for Hemingway. Two syllables are better than three; one is better than two."

For agri-marketers, the Summit is not only a chance to polish writing and photography skills, but itís also "an ideal venue to build personal relationships with editors," says Barry Nelson, manager of public relations, John Deere Agricultural Marketing Center, Lenexa, Kan.

"Youíre in one spot where all the editors are located," Nelson notes. "You can go to the seminars to get a better handle on the hot topics editors are faced with and can get a better idea of how to help them."

Deere has helped sponsor all three Summits, including setting up a booth in the InfoExpo area along with other corporate and association sponsors.

Walt Barnhart, director of trade media for the National Cattlemenís Beef Association, agrees. "If youíre going to be a participant with the print media, this is the event you should attend. Itís good to let people know youíre around if they need you." AM

Debby Hartke is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Louis.

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