Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Story, and in particular how to tell one’s story, is the theme of the third annual Christian Writers Conference from 9 a,.m. to noon Jan. 11 at First Baptist Church Woodway.

Conference founder Reita Hawthorne said the goal of the conference is “to reach more Christian writers and help them develop their writing skills. Hopefully, we will ignite them to publish, if not for the public, then to record their memoirs as a legacy for their families.

“The world needs good Christian writers — who write poignant, lively stories — to speak through the world’s confusion and make sense of what (Jesus) came to teach. To make the Sermon on the Mount as clear today as it was on that Judean hillside many centuries ago.”

This year’s conference keynote speakers include Joani Livingston and Renee McKay of Livingston+McKay LLC, a television and radio production company.

Hawthorne said Livingston was invited to give the keynote talk because of her involvement last year with one of the evening workshops that followed the conference.

“Her filmmaking techniques and her script-writing ideas and implementation fascinated us all,” Hawthorne said.

The Livingston+McKay resumé is impressive, boasting two Emmy Awards and other prominent accolades including numerous documentaries aired on PBS. Yet through every project this duo tackles, story takes center stage.

“I think that we were asked to speak because we believe story is of the upmost importance of everything,” Livingston said. “Every aspect of what we do serves a story. It’s not about showing how talented we are. Everything serves the story. We do a lot of research upfront to figure out the best way to tell the story.”

Dr. Sarah-Jane Murray, the pair’s screenwriter and a top Hollywood story analyst, will be joining them for the writers’ workshop. Murray teaches on story in the Great Texts Honors College program at Baylor University.

The Livingston+McKay website also communicates the importance of story.

“Through story, we like to practice the art of ‘awakening the wisdom in others,’ ” the website reads. “Rather than telling people what they ought to do or trying to convince them of a particular way of thinking, we present information in a manner which allows the audience to connect the dots for themselves.”

The story is evident in one of their most recent productions, “Ineffable,” a documentary about the arts.

“We just started on it in March,” Livingston said. “Ballet is a performance art. As opposed to a great work of art in an attic that is found decades later, performance art — if it is not passed down from generation to generation — we’re going to lose it.”

“Ineffable” highlights the art of ballet.

“A lot of the arts intersect with ballet: dance, theatre, costumes, sets, music, backdrops,” Livingston explained. “It’s a huge pathway to explore other areas of the arts.”

While the experiences of Livingston and McKay are primarily in screenwriting and television and radio production, their combined 36-plus years in the media business offers valuable insight to all aspiring writers, Hawthorne said.

If a conference attendee is more interested in blogging or writing books or magazine articles, the element of story still applies, she said.

“We’ll be talking about story and why it’s critical to effecting change,” Livingston said. “We’ll be talking more specifically about the emotional core of a story. We’ll also cover subtext and the things you use no matter what you’re writing (whether it’s a story, a song or a script).”

The trio will also answer questions such as:

Do all writers blog?

Do all writers have a time space every day for writing?

Do you have to be published in order to label yourself a writer?

Why do you write?

For those interested in screenwriting, Livingston offers this advice: “If you think that something you want to do is writing or directing, then get involved in some way with someone. Intern somewhere as quickly as you can to find out if this is what you want to do. The thing about this business is you can study in school but you really learn by doing.”

She also advises those wanting to pursue other genres: “Learn the craft. Read about it. Study it. I run across this all the time, people in general think it’s very easy to do what we do.

“People think they can write or direct something and it’s not effective. Take time to learn the craft, otherwise you’re spinning your wheels. If you want to do something people remember and enjoy watching you have to perfect your craft.”

Hawthorne said she sees a value in hosting the Christian Writers Conference. She references the Book of Isaiah, which reads, “The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.” (Isaiah 54, NASB)

“How far does the written word travel today?” Hawthorne asked. “It has the ability to supply a word for the weary; writers have the ability to listen like one being taught. He has opened our ears.”

As in previous years, various authors will be available in the church’s lobby for book signings.

People may register online at The following sessions on Wednesday evenings for nine weeks are free.

Hawthorne always encourages people to write.

“Television, documentaries, as well as, books and magazines are straight highways to knowledge,” she said. “Everybody has a story to tell. Don’t let it pass with you. Your story could help somebody else.”


Christian Writers Conference

When: 9 a.m. to noon, Jan. 11

Where: First Baptist Church Woodway, 101 Ritchie Road

Cost: $20 for adults; $5 for students

Registration: Go online at or pay at the door

Workshops: The next nine Wednesday nights have workshops from 6 to 8 p.m., also at First Baptist Church Woodway. Speakers will be:

Jan. 15: Lisa Wingate

Jan. 22: Martha Rogers

Jan. 29: Grant Teaff

Feb. 5: Barbara Chesser

Feb. 12: Brice Cherry

Feb. 19: Vicky Kendig

Feb. 29: Reita Hawthorne

Mar. 5: Wrap-up session

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