Finding Inspiration at a Writer’s Conference

Oddly enough, I’ve written more in grad school than I did throughout my entire undergraduate career. I attribute this to a few things. First, I’m older and therefore (hopefully) more mature and disciplined. Second, I have more time. As an undergrad, I lived back home in California. I worked forty-five hours a week as a manager at a local movie theatre—shifts that took their toll on me. I’d leave work at three or four in the morning, sleep for a few hours, and then wake up as the sun was rising to head out the door and make the commute to Long Beach for school, where I stayed all day.

When I headed up to Portland last fall, I found a part-time job on campus. I set my own schedule, and I no longer work eleven-hour shifts that I walk away from with my eye-twitching (no joke). Of course, I also have a growing pile of student loans, so there’s that, but the version of me that worked her ass off for four years made sure that she graduated from CSULB debt-free. And so I realize that my pile is much smaller than others I know.

But the most important factor to my increase in writing can be attributed to the people in my program and the Portland literary scene. See, I’m a perfectionist. Because of that, writing is something that I both love and hate. That I often want to throw aside but can’t quit. The degree I am working towards is technically called “Writing: Book Publishing,” and while the majority of the students are seeking to become publishing professionals—future editors, designers, marketers, agents, or publishers—there is also that “writing” aspect we can’t ignore. We’re closet writers, working on short stories, poems, bits of novels we hope turn into something alone in our bedrooms. I, for one, tell very few individuals about this writer side of me.

Why is that? It wasn’t until last weekend, at Write to Publish 2014, a writer’s conference that Ooligan Press (the teaching press I work at with others in the program) put on, that I was able to really articulate “why.” Specifically, after watching Allison Moon, author of the Tales of the Pack series, give her keynote speech.  

Essentially, Allison gave me permission to “suck” publicly. She acknowledged that writers are often an introverted breed of individual, but that at writer’s conferences, like Write to Publish, we get a chance to be ourselves with other writers who just “get it.” I left the day feeling reinvigorated and inspired. At the end of her speech, Allison told us her five rules for writers:

1. You have to give yourself permission to write by believing your voice is worthy.
2. You have to write.
3. You have to finish.
4. You have to share your writing with the world.
5. You have to do it all over again.

These rules were simple, which only served to remind me that writing is simple. You sit down at a computer and start typing. If you’re old school, maybe you sit at a typewriter or grab a pen and notebook. But the rules are the same. You have to write. You have to finish. You have to be prepared to share it, come back to it, and start all over again.

Earlier, I commented on the Portland literary scene. Part of that scene is created by Ooligan Press—through events and readings that they host. But Powell’s is in the center of Downtown, and coming from a place where finding an actual brick-and-mortar book store was getting harder to do, it’s nice to be reminded that books still matter to a lot of people. I also intern for Late Night Library, a literary nonprofit, which hosts readings, creates podcasts, and produces columns that feature debut authors. Many of the volunteers and even the director himself are aspiring writers. I say all of this to point out that although we have an image of a writer in our minds, writers are all around us. We see them everyday. In coffee shops. At their day jobs. It’s easy to doubt yourself because you’re not where you want to be, but you have to keep pushing yourself. Make friends who are writers. Start meeting up to workshop your pieces. If you’re not ready for that, start a book club. Read to support others, but also read to soak it all in—it’s the only way to move forward.

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor-in-Chief at The Poetics Project. She has a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and a passion for stories in all their forms. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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