Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Notes from OCW: Brett Cogburn, Western Writer, Philosopher, and Contrarian Grammarian

During Brett Cogburn’s informal discussion at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference earlier this month, I was expecting a rough-and-tumble cowboy with a thick drawl and wise-cracking attitude. I was pleased to find a western writer-philosopher who seemed genuinely interested in sharing what he’s learned about the craft of writing while hearing from other writers about their writing processes. 

Here are some of Brett’s suggestions and words of wisdom I jotted down:  

 Start with action.

Don’t dump background at the front end of your story.

Dialogue needs to sound natural and can be used to provide background of characters.

Give snippets of background.

Just write. Edit later.

His advice on editing: Cut, Rewrite, Tighten. Take out what readers skip.

TMI? Gut something out of your story.

Every good writer has to be an editor. You have to be your best editor.

 You must make decisions and question everything you write.

Where is my story going?

Does it work?

How will I tell this story?

What scenes will I show?

What can I do differently?

Hiring a copy editor or proofreader is necessary.

Write a series to hook readers.

Writing is a business of comparatives

You have limited space to tell your story.

Paint a portrait with words, keeping in mind you are limited by the canvas size.

You can’t take the writer out of the story.

Dialogue is the hardest part of the craft.

Observe how others talk.

People don’t talk in complete sentences.

Use vernacular but not to the point of distraction.

How do others react? They’re not just talking heads.

Challenge yourself to write as said.

At the end of his talk, he summed up his approach to writing by saying, “I’m an old contrarian.”

He observed that, while some more traditional western writers spin stories about good guys in white hats defeating villains before riding off into the sunset, he likes to take risks and try different approaches with his western writing.

His last few words of advice were to:

Get out. Talk to strangers.

Be an observer of life and people.

Have a vision! Find You!

Step out of your bubble and start writing!

(Note to self: Be sure to try this before riding off into the sunset.)


  1. One sorry moment when I had to miss this!!!! Would have loved to hear him speak...maybe...someday. I have read his Destiny, Texas. Oh my what a read, I recommend it often and to anyone who will listen.

    1. I'll have to check out Destiny, Texas. A little birdie told me Brett will most likely be at OCW next year.

  2. My two biggest problems from this list: stepping out of my bubble, and knowing where my story is going!

    1. Hi Val,
      I have a hard time stepping out of my bubble too.

  3. More sound advice for writers! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Lynn,
      You are welcome. Hope all is well with you.

  4. Donna--Thanks for sharing, since many of us were unable to make the conference.

  5. Donna--Thanks for sharing, since many of us were unable to make the conference.

    1. Hi Sioux,
      You're welcome. Maybe you can make it next year.

  6. Excellent advice from someone who obviously knows. Thanks, Donna!

    Critter Alley

  7. Excellent advice from someone who obviously knows. Thanks, Donna!

    Critter Alley

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Pat,
      You are welcome. Yep. He knows his stuff.

  8. Thanks for providing an overview with lots of good tips.

  9. Hi Tammy,
    You are welcome.

    Hi Linda,
    Hope you can use the tips.

  10. Thx, Donna. Brett is someone who speaks from experience, is good at what he does, and has managed to keep a humble attitude. Glad we were both able to be at OCW this year.

    1. It was an inspiring experience. Glad we both made it this year.

  11. Great post, and wonderful points! Thanks so much, Donna.


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