Personal Truth

I had my first Writers’ Fest sophomore year. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect. I was still developing my craft during that time and hadn’t broke through that creative surface. I struggled with accepting my writing as my own, creating stories and stories that didn’t entirely tell my truth.

When I arrived on that early morning, I was cold and tired. It hadn’t dawned on me that I was about to be in the presence of amazing writers who wanted to share their expertise with my classmates and me.

I hadn’t accepted that this event was for me; I really hadn’t accepted that I was a writer. I had made notes about workshops that I was interested in and took notes while I was in those master classes, but the experience didn’t really hit me until I attended a workshop with Ira Sukrungruang.

I went to his workshop, originally, because I enjoyed his personality on stage when all of us creative writers were introduced to the authors. He was bright, funny, and incredibly genuine. I wanted to see how he was able to be himself since I struggled with doing that – in other words, I was seeking out personal truth. I didn’t know this was what my creative brain was reaching for, but looking back, that is exactly what it craved, subconsciously.

In that master class, I learned about the depth of creative nonfiction – a genre that boggled my mind because I hated writing anything about myself.

I was exposed to a bigger issue within myself. I was closed off and felt unworthy of expressing what pained me and what made me happy. I wanted my stories (both fictional and not) to have nothing to do with me; many of my stories told of the fantasies I wanted my life to be filled with. Writing, for me, was always a very solitary and self-fulfilling practice in those years. I never thought about the reader; I was my only reader. I never wanted to express the journey of my characters because I knew, somehow, it would get too personal.

As I have gotten older, I have realized how damaging this can be to one’s craft and one’s own journey of healing.

In that master class, Ira told us to write something true. Something that affected us deeply. He said no one had to read it but you. That was the first time I ever wrote something honest about my insecurities. After we all took that time to write, he allowed some people to share what they put down.

That space became incredibly vulnerable. He even asked if anyone of us had nervous habits; I opened up about how I picked my nails or cuticles when I was sad, angry, or nervous.

Overall, that entire experience was shocking; the things I shared surprised me. I had always been uncomfortable with vulnerability because I had been so used to bottling my problems, but that experience taught me to let yourself live; to allow truth a voice. By allowing your writing to capture a personal lens, the reader can relate to it. If not for the story or nonfiction piece, in the very least, do it for yourself.

That Writers’ Fest, yes, taught me about writing, but it mostly taught me about humanity. I lacked so much humanity and understanding in my life because I was taught it didn’t matter. I was used to keeping it to myself because my pain didn’t matter; what made me live and hurt didn’t matter.

I am happy to say I consider myself more of a writer than I did, then. I am a lot more mature, vulnerable, and I understand the importance of personal truth. I try to live by my truth every day; I am more myself because of it. By allowing myself access to my humanity, I have been able to connect to the humanity of others, even if it’s just for a laugh or moment of empathy. I strive to be as genuine as Ira and it has helped me grow tremendously. I am not as scared to be myself, anymore.

Granted, I still struggle – there is always doubt when I decide to write something that puts my vulnerability out there. I know there is a reader, though, who may resonate with what I say; maybe through my words, they will find their own.

Reece Braswell, Senior Art Editor

How Jazz and Poetry Connect

I was able to go to Douglas Anderson’s Writers’ Festival for the first time when I was in my sophomore year of high school. When I looked through all the authors and their workshops I had a hard time picking which ones I wanted to go to, as I found each one interesting. One that stood out to me immediately was Jim Peterson’s workshop called the Jazz Method of Poetry. The workshop was about connecting writing poetry to playing jazz, and I knew once I read the description that I wanted to go.

Looking back at my memories of Writers’ Fest, this workshop stands out the most to me. Peterson gave a bit of a lesson on how jazz is played and how that connects to writing poetry. Jazz musicians don’t know what they will be doing next when they are performing. This causes the music to become brand new, to become one of a kind. He connected this to writing and being able to go into your unconscious. To find something new within your ideas. I really connected with this idea and still find myself returning to it years later.

We were then given an exercise where we were given a list of words, some of them being rifle, crouch, mockingbird, tin can, leash, and so on. We had to include each word in every other line. I remember being nervous about doing this exercise, like I was afraid of writing something bad with what I was given. Once I pushed myself to go for it I ended up finding it a really beneficial experience. What I thought would restrict me actually helped me go further in my writing and create something I didn’t expect at all. It was freeing to be able to do this and I’m so glad I attended this workshop. It wasn’t like anything I had done before.

Thinking about this one workshop makes me so excited for this upcoming Writers’ Festival. It is such a special opportunity that us students get, as well as the Jacksonville community. Along with Jim Peterson’s workshop, another special memory I have from the event was hearing every artist read some of their work at the morning sampler. It was the first thing we did and made me so inspired and excited for the rest of the day. That moment truly put into perspective how amazing it was to be there.

Writers’ Fest felt like a game changing moment for me. It was one of the first moments I felt like a true writer. At that point in my writing life, I had never felt more inspired by what I was surrounded with. Going into this year’s Writers’ Fest, I’m so excited to be a part of this again. Where I was as a writer in my sophomore year compared to my senior year is a big difference. I’m a different person than I was then, but I’m just as excited to attend this event.

 – Anna Howse, Senior Fiction/CNF Editor

Writers’ Fest and its Magical Lessons

As a freshman at Douglas Anderson, I experienced my first Writers’ Fest on a whim, oblivious to the work that goes into the event. Something that I did notice, despite my naive nature, is that the writers had a lot of interesting and thoughtful things to say. They spoke to me in few ways people do; they listened to my innermost questions when it came to writing, and provided answers I still use today in my work. One of those people, specifically, was George Saunders.

George Saunders and Tracy K. Smith were the headliners that year, and I went to both of their lectures. Coming out of both, I gained valuable information that is universal to my work.

George Saunders had a wonderful question and answer section, which let writers ask questions that matter to them, and lets them receive a response from a world-class, bestselling author. One of the questions that came up in the question and answer section was simple: what does writing mean to you?

His answer, unlike many public figures in today’s world, did not try to avoid the subject matter. He took it head-on, thoughtfully, and left us with something deep to think about. Writing is not putting words on a page, it is communicating a message in a universal way, and benefits society in ways that few other methods do. It strengthens our bond with our own humanity, and creates new ones with other people. Not only does it do justice to the questions of our conscious, it implements a major rule in our lives: don’t hold anything back.

Hearing this, the last few words reminded me of a poster that hung, and still hangs, in my creative writing classroom: “Go so deep into yourself, you speak for everyone.” – Galway Kinnell.

Through this immaculate response, I now use this method and way of thinking about writing every time I pick up my pen. If it is going to be something more meaningful than a fun read or a stream of consciousness, it needs to hint at a deeper message. It needs to speak to people and let them leave with something meaningful. Good writing lets words jump off the page, and stick in the reader’s mind for a long time. Couple that with an important message, and suddenly we’ve made a monumental change in the world with only some words, some paragraphs, some pages. It fills in the holes we have as humans, and it lets us fumble without feeling we’ve failed. This is what writing now means to me, thanks to that simple question and a beautiful answer.

George Saunders was not the only writer that made a meaningful change in the way I view writing, and, therefore, the way I view life. Other writers made meaningful comments and showed us techniques that I still use daily.

It is through these conversations that I had with wonderful writers that made me the person I am today, and that is all thanks to the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Fest. Without it, I would never have gotten the opportunity to experience such wonder and skill. I am still thankful to this day, and with a new Writers’ Festival coming up, I’m looking forward to being there.

Jasper Darnell, Junior Layout & Design Editor