How Lit Fest Lit An Unexpected Fire

Editor's Note: This is the thirteenth in a series of essays and podcasts in which readers and writers from all corners of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop community express why they believe in our mission to elevate the literary arts. Please support these important programs on Colorado Gives Day, December 10, when every gift is boosted by a $1.5 million incentive fund. Save time by scheduling your gift today; just select “Colorado Gives Day” under frequency and your donation will be processed on the 10th and boosted by the incentive fund.

Last August I started an MFA program at CSU in creative nonfiction. My only CNF writing up to this point had been the two stories I submitted with my application packet. A true newbie in the field. During my first semester I wrote a hermit crab essay for which I was eventually awarded a fellowship for Lit Fest 2019. Part of this prize included a meeting with an agent.

I was floored. Didn’t know what to expect. So I cranked out a hundred pages of a memoir, submitted fifteen for the agent to review. I was all nerves before our meeting. Maybe even naively hopeful that my work was good enough to print. A gift-wrapped manuscript any publishing house would be lucky to have.

Right.

Meeting with the agent was awesome—a bit humbling—and perhaps even life changing. She asked me about my platform, my readership, what type of online presence I have. I stumbled through a few I don’t knows, and came out on the other side with a clear picture of what I needed to do. 

I needed a following, an audience. Really, I just needed people to start reading my work.

So six weeks ago, late August this year, I created a Medium account. Began writing blog posts. Started submitting to established publications. To my surprise, I had over a dozen pieces published in just a few weeks. 

Even more to my surprise, I started getting paid.

Not much. But more than I was. And as my followers count rises, so do my views. 4,000 reads last I checked. Not bad considering two months ago maybe fifteen people had read my work. 

My platform is increasing. My work is being read. My craft is being honed. In short, I’m beginning to shape myself into a person publishing houses might be willing to take a chance on—assuming all the other pieces fall into place. Namely, quality writing and storytelling.

When I left Lit Fest in mid-June, I buckled down and cranked out another 160 pages. Finished the first draft of my memoir. 62K words in just a couple months. In under a year I’d gone from a non-writer to fully fledged author—not quite published yet, I know. 

For me, Lit Fest felt like the second phase of an MFA program. Where an MFA program often has novice writers trying to find themselves on the page, perhaps exploring content and voice, the individuals in my Lit Fest workshops were accomplished, practiced, and damn good writers. A bit intimidating, but in a good way. A way that made me want to sit in front of a computer and get better.

What Lit Fest offers is a vibrant community and an awesome space to connect with fellow artists. I feel incredibly grateful for the week I spent at Lighthouse. It has changed the trajectory of my writing career, and now I’m in a better position for success than ever before.

I also feel a debt of gratitude for the Veterans Writing Award Lighthouse offers each year. Without this monetary boost, I may not have been able to attend the event. A big thanks to the donors and individuals and organizations that make this possible.

Ryan Lanham is a CNF MFA at CSU. He was also an infantryman in the army––hence, the acronyms––and now writes about some of these experiences. He finished the first draft of his memoir this summer and has just begun the revision process. He also facilitates a weekly writing workshop for military-affiliated folk in the Fort Collins community. He writes at Medium at @ryanelanham.

Read the other entries in the Colorado Gives Day 2019 series:
"Doors For Others to Follow" by Joe Ponce
"Fort Lyon Standard Time" by Sarah Shotland
"Marking Time in the Lighthouse Attic" by Gay Porter DeNileon
"The Poet Can Teach You Whatever You Need" by C3 School students
"Facilitating Friday 500" by Sheryl Luna
"Finding My Place" by Jennifer Wortman
"Like a Form of Release" by David Mejia
“Monumental Fun” by Susan Blosten
"Confessions of a Night Writer" by Twanna LaTrice Hill
"To Build Impossible Worlds" by Connor Rodenbeck
“A Mission of Compassion” by Michael Sindler
“It Takes a Village” by Tiffany Quay Tyson

Podcast: