The task of writing is a personal, solitary endeavor for the most part. No one else is required, only the formation of thoughts in your brain, the divining of words that convey stories. What happens, though, when a writer needs feedback, motivation, or an open ear that understands what it means to write? Willamette Writers on the River (WWotR) serves that purpose for novelists, essayists, poets, screenwriters, and the like in the Corvallis area. It is a group that provides opportunities to enhance skills, network, and create a welcoming writing community. WWotR is the local chapter of Willamette Writers, which is based in Portland and is one of the largest writers’ organizations in the United States with over 1,800 members.
At the WWotR meeting on Oct. 20, author and editor Brian Doyle spoke about his experiences as an author and also offered nuggets of wisdom for local wordsmiths. He is the editor for Portland Magazine at the University of Portland and has written 14 books.
After reading pieces of his own work, Doyle rattled off some helpful tidbits for fellow writers. The first was, there are no little things—no subject is so insignificant that it can’t be written about. “Writing is easy—just type!” he said. He explained that in order to write well, you need to stop thinking. Just let go, and allow your work to surprise you, even horrify you, he continued. Remember that your writing shouldn’t always be about yourself, because everyone else is vastly more interesting. “You’re not writers, you’re story catchers,” he added.
What every aspiring writer wants to know is how to turn his or her passion into a successful career. Doyle’s response to this was blunt honesty. Get a job you enjoy. Write every day. What makes a great writer (as well as a great seducer) is to ask a question, then listen, he said. Sometimes writers get caught up in the technical stuff. Forget all the rules, he exclaimed, and just play.
Doyle said that as humans, we crave connection, and writers need to connect their writing to other people in a way that says, “Don’t you feel this, too?” Even if only one or two people connect to it, your friends or children, you’ve succeeded. It is important to pay attention to the moral aspect of your craft. As his writing career progresses, Doyle realizes more and more that words are weak. “That’s why stories are so important. They convey meaning. The point of life is to hold hands and share stories. Stories are light. Stories are food. The words aren’t important—it’s the story you tell,” were some of his I’m-not-a-teacher words of wisdom. “You are the only one who can tell your stories.”
Willamette Writers on the River meets on the third Monday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Dennis Hall of the First Presbyterian Church on 114 8th Street. Meetings are free to members of Willamette Writers and full-time students. Non-members pay $10 to attend, but no one is turned away.
The next WWoR meeting will take place on December 15 and will be one of four quarterly readings that WWoR hosts every year. The readings are free and open to the public. Writers may sign up starting at 6:15 andwill be allotted a seven-minute time frame. This is a chance to practice one very important aspect of being a writer.