Sunday, March 2, 2008
ANWA Writers’ Conference – Line upon line
ANWA, which stands for American Night Writers Association, held their annual writers’ conference in Gilbert, AZ on Saturday March 1st.
ANWA is a LDS based writing organization for women. Thankfully for me, the conference was open to everyone, and I was relieved to see three other men besides myself attend, though even if I had to be the only man in a sea of women, it would've been worth it. Initially I felt a bit like a round peg trying to hide in a square hole, but all of the sisters there were very friendly, and not in the least bit dismayed by my presence. Quite to the contrary, every sister that I sat next to went out of her way to engage me in conversation as we shared our joy of writing with each other.
The first class that I attended was about Finding Your Voice, the presenter was Tristi Pinkston. Tristi is way cool. She is eloquent, funny, sincere, and inspirational, and she has the unique ability to be all of those things at the same time. Some of my notes from her class include:
A writer’s voice is not characters or style alone. It is your thumbprint that distinguishes your writing as truly yours. It is the words I choose to use; how I choose to string words together in sentences, the message that I want to get across; and my personality, that infuses everything I write.
To find your voice she asked, “Who are you when no one is looking?”
A theme that ran through the entire conference, and cited by Tristi, can be found in D&C 93:29, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.”
The core of our soul is eternal. Before coming to sojourn in mortality we developed aptitudes, talents, and abilities. We learned to write before we came here. The ability to write is a gift of the spirit.
She explained that the gift of tongues is the power of persuasion, and that writing is a part of the gift of tongues.
Some of my favorite quotes/paraphrases from Tristi include:
“When we feel the need to write it is our pre-mortal experiences and urges pulling us on.”
“If you have a righteous desire to write it is inspiration from Heavenly Father.”
She asked the group, “What keeps us from finding our voice?” Responses included, fear, anxiety, and doubts about our ability (or inability) to write.
She reminded us of the story in Moses 1 where the Lord gives Moses his marching orders and then Satan appears to Moses and tries to persuade Moses to follow him. However, Moses knew who he was, and whom he should follow. She emphasized that it is the adversary that whispers into our ears that we can’t write, or that we’re fat, ugly, and stupid. He will tell any lie he can to stunt our spiritual growth, and to deny us becoming who our Heavenly Father wants us to become.
Tristi confirmed that writing is hard and that rejection is a part of it. She admonished us though, “Don’t listen to those that will drag you down.” Quoting from Robert D. Hales she said, “God would approve and encourage us to use our talents.”
She also read to us a wonderful quote from Orson F. Whitney speaking to Zion:
 But what has all this to do with literature? you ask. More, perhaps, than is at first apparent. It is by means of literature that much of this great work will have to be accomplished: a literature of power and purity, worthy of such a work. And a pure and powerful literature can only proceed from a pure and powerful people. Grapes are not gathered of thorns. nor figs of thistles.
 I am not here, my friends, to tickle your ears with tinkling phrases, to deliver a learned lecture on Greek and Roman mythology: to quote Hebrew and Latin. and stun you with sound, and bewilder you with a pedantic display of erudition. No! Experience has taught me that it is the heart. not simply the head, we must appeal to, if we wish to stir the soul. The intellect may shine, but it is the bosom that burns, and warms into life every movement that is born to bless humanity. l, therefore, speak to your hearts, and I would rather say three words by the power of the Holy Ghost than lecture here for three hours on the fables of Greece and Rome.
 Wake up! ye sons and daughters of God! Trim your lamps and go forth to meet your distiny [sic]. A world awaits you: rich and poor, high and low, learned and unlearned. All must be preached to; all must be sought after; all must be left without excuse. And whither we cannot go, we must send; where we cannot speak we must write; and in order to win men with our writings we must know how and what to write. If the learned will only listen to the learned, God will send them learned men, to meet them on their own ground, and show them that "Mormonism," the Gospel of Christ, is not only the gospel of truth, but the gospel of intelligence and culture. The Lord is not above doing this. He is merciful to all men, not willing that any should perish. or have it to say they were unfairly dealt with. For over fifty years the gospel has been preached to the poor and lowly. It will yet go to the high and mighty, even to kings and nobles, and penetrate and climb to places hitherto deemed inaccessible. Our literature will help to take it there; for this, like all else with which we have to do, must be made subservient to the building up of Zion.
 But remember this, ye writers and orators of the future! It is for God's glory. not man's. Let not vanity and pride possess you. Without humility there is no power. You must be in earnest. You must feel what you write, if you wish it to be felt by others. If the words you speak are not as red-hot embers from the flaming forge of a sincere and earnest soul, they will never set on fire the souls of your hearers…
"Seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
The formation of a home literature is directly in the line and spirit of this injunction. Literature means learning, and it is from the "best books" we are told to seek it. This does not merely mean the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the book of Doctrine and Covenants, Church works and religious writings--though these indeed are "the best books," and will ever be included in and lie at the very basis of our literature. But it also means history, poetry, philosophy, art and science, languages, government--all truth in fact, wherever found. either local or general, and relating to times past, present or to come.
 It is from the warp and woof of all learning, so far as we are able to master it and make it ours, that the fabric of our literature must be woven. We must read, and think, and feel, and pray, and then bring forth our thoughts, and polish and preserve them. This will make literature.
 Above all things, we must be original. The Holy Ghost is the genius of "Mormon" literature. Not Jupiter, nor Mars, Minerva, nor Mercury. No fabled gods and goddesses; no Mount Olympus; no "sisters nine," no "blue-eyed maid of heaven"; no invoking of mythical muses that "did never yet one mortal song inspire." No pouring of new wine into old bottles. No patterning after the dead forms of antiquity. Our literature must live and breathe for itself. Our mission is diverse from all others; our literature must also be. The odes of Anacreon, the satires of Horace and Juvenal, the epics of Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton; the sublime tragedies of Shakspeare [sic]; these are all excellent, all well enough in their way; but we must not attempt to copy them. They cannot be reproduced. We may read, we may gather sweets from all these flowers, but we must build our own hive and honeycomb after God's supreme design.
 We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God's ammunition is not exhausted. His brightest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God's name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in earth. Let the smile of derision wreathe the face of scorn; let the frown of hatred darken the brow of bigotry. Small things are the seeds of great things, and, like the acorn that brings forth the oak, or the snowflake that forms the avalanche, God's kingdom will grow, and on wings of light and power soar to the summit of its destiny.
Tristi continued with, “Writing is a spiritual endeavor. Creation is spiritual, and writing is no exception.”
Discussing how to unleash our writer’s voice she said, “Your experience is the lens that you see life through…learn to write from your inner core of strength…Write from your places of pain. Write about a difficult and emotionally painful experience. Write everything, and then write how you got through it. Put your fear and joy into your writing…You need to be willing to say, ‘I don’t care if others laugh at my pain.’ When you put honesty into your writing the reader will sense it. When you write with honesty your words have power.”
I will continue writing my experiences from this amazing conference in future posts. At the moment however, I have to stop so I can go shower and then take my son out to collect fast offerings. Stay tuned.