Writers, so the stereotype says, compose their novels in solitary, chilly attic rooms, quill pens scratching expansively over a loose sheaf of papers.
I don’t live in an attic, nor do I write with a quill pen. I practice the craft of writing in the modern fashion — by attending conferences and workshops to meet other writers.
Therefore, on Feb. 19, instead of relaxing at home on my three-day weekend, I attended the Oregon Christian Writers’ Winter 2011 Conference, held at the Red Lion Hotel here in Salem. For $30, I got to hear the keynote speaker, David W. Pierce, describe writing as the art of building castles in the air.
Actually, Pierce, a novelist and English instructor from Tennessee, quoted Henry David Thoreau: “If you have castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Pierce explained that he built his first castle at 12, when he decided to be a writer. More than 15 years later, he laid the foundation for the castle when he published his first short story.
In his two morning sessions, Pierce addressed perseverance and the importance of details in writing. Eight additional afternoon workshops, divided into two hour-long sessions, covered other topics, such as mystery writing, free-lance journalism, poetry, and Facebook for authors.
I attended the journalism class and a late afternoon workshop on fiction writing, but the conference gave me something more than a couple hours of instructions.
Between classes, I was able to talk to a couple friends I hadn’t seen in several months, besides spending the lunch break with Gina Ochsner and Dr. Colette Tennant, two of Corban’s creative writing instructors, who also attended.
Sue Milholer, OCW’s business manager, estimated that around 150 people attended the event, just to hear from other writers about their craft and love — writing.
“The one day conferences are more for encouragement, fellowship and learning about the craft,” Milholer said. She added that she appreciates OCW’s focus on the craft of writing at its three shorter events in October, February, and May.
OCW also hosts a longer conference in August to help authors prepare for publication and meet with agents, editors, and publishing houses. This summer, the organization hopes to arrange a wide panel of editors and publishers for the conference, in addition to providing 12 coaching classes, and at least 40 workshops.
The February event was my third OCW conference, counting the winter conference I attended in 2008 and the weeklong conference in August last summer. The summer event was much more expensive, costing over $300, but it allowed me to learn from more experienced authors and meet other novices.
“I know it’s a process,” Milholer said, “but the realities of the marketplace are that new writers don’t waltz in and get published.”
As Pierce explained during his workshops on Saturday, if you want to learn the craft, “you have to write, you have to write all the time, and you have to write about everything.”
We write for fun, after all, as well as for work.