Submitted by Jessica Trippe
“If you want to be writers, the question is what are you currently writing?” With a voice that evidenced his thirty years spent as a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Jerry Blacklaw encouraged Pensters and guests to continually practice their craft through writing journals, blogs, short stories or even letters to the editor.
Long before he penned the fictional adventures of 10-year-old Uncle Weldon in Hot Coffee Mississippi, the process of preparing sermons for Sunday service taught him how to address two key questions writers face: ‘does it make any sense’ and ‘are people interested in what I have to say?’
Noting that few aspiring writers find blockbuster success, Blacklaw offered a quote by Jim Kaplan: “Think about it as an avocation rather than a vocation. Write for the sake of art. Write like a painter who paints for the joy of painting. If you don’t make any money, the creative journey has been worth it.”
Just as painters have favored techniques, writers have their own. Including a “sense of goodness” in his stories, is one of Blacklaw’s. Audience members offered feedback on how even dark stories can have that same underlying thread shine through. Prior to closing, attendees were given a chance to try their hand at crafting a story in one sentence.
The exercise offered the chance to see a story in its most basic form, but it “takes a lot of words to fill a 300-page-book” noted Blacklaw. Accomplishing this requires multiple ‘threads’ outside of the main character’s objective be woven together. “If you’re going to build a house you need a house plan. But everybody who writes knows that once you start writing on the plan, it begins to go this way and that.” Blacklaw went on to detail how some characters from the initial outline never made it into the story, while others appeared along the way.
The process could go on infinitely, with rewrites often taking longer than the first draft. But Blacklaw reminded audience members that “sometimes we have to wrap it up and put it to bed.”