Writing Our World

“We’ve decided to move the Oregon Writing Festival online in May, ” the program chair announces, and while no one is surprised—it’s November 2021, and Covid continues to ebb and flow—many will be disappointed. Today’s Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) board meeting, too, is on Zoom. This is our reality.

It means that an author once committed to work with the student writers in the high school group will renege, “Zoom-fatigue.” It means volunteers, organizers, teachers, student writers will be attending online sessions. It means a seriously reduced attendance. Zoom-fatigue thrives.

But when I am asked to host the middle school session with Oregon author Rosanne Parry, I eagerly accept. My responsibilities are small: introduce her and monitor the chat, posing questions that the students ask—and I am a fan of Rosanne’s writing. Do you know her books? Since reading Heart of a Shepherd, the first of her many novels, my sincere enthusiasm and respect has only grown. (I honestly don’t know which is my favorite.)

Last Saturday was the day, and a robust 80+ middle school writers showed up, their cameras dark, their microphones muted. I briefly introduced Rosanne and she began. And her subject matter was not what I’d anticipated. She acknowledged that up front with the students, owning that she would be talking about making a living as a writer, the nitty-gritty, how-writers-manage-financial-stability of it.

In the course of her talk she discussed the realities—irregular income, royalties, isolation, rejection, secondary income sources drying up because of unforeseen events (pandemic, school visits etc). Then she said, “It has never been the most talented beginner who succeeds in the end. If you sustain that [writing] practice purposefully, if you don’t give up…the question is: Do you love it enough to do it all the time?” and she concluded, “A life in the arts is not easy, but it’s worth the risk.”

The students were wowed because she spoke to them about the relevant and real world of writing. She respected them, took them seriously. During the Q & A, the questions leaned more toward the ones you might expect—writer’s block, sustaining attention, idea-generation. Then came the final question: “How do I write about a topic that is triggering for me, when there is something I need to write, but I’m not sure I can?”

With the same honesty she said, “I find that that is when other writers you trust can be helpful.” She admitted that not all writing is ready to be shared, even if it is meant to be written, that there are topics that are “too close to the bone” and each writer must protect themself, that stepping away from the writing is always good advice. Time, she suggested, give it time.

Hopefully in May 2023, Portland State University’s campus will be bustling with student writers. They will arrive eager to meet with fellow artists and find their people, a supportive community. But for all who attended this year, the Oregon Writing Festival’s virtual equivalent did the same.

(Thanks to all authors, organizers, teachers, volunteers, and students who helped make this event a success!)

3 thoughts on “Writing Our World”

  1. Zoom fatigue is real. I am glad that the conference at least went ahead and you were able to moderate a session with an author that you admire.

  2. What a great and honest presentation. I am sure the students attending gained much insight into what a writer’s life is like. I am sure they appreciated her honesty. Hopefully , next year will see in person and not zoom presentations.

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