Students get the word at Canyon Crest Academy Writers’ Conference: Just write


More than 200 students from 31 high schools around San Diego showed up for the fourth annual Canyon Crest Academy Writers’ Conference last Saturday. The day-long event featured 28 authors, agents and writing professionals teaching workshops that covered everything from general writing techniques to playwriting and songwriting, podcasts, spoken word, writing for TV and comedy, and selling your work.

“We sold out this year, and had our largest number of attendees ever,” said Julia Camilleri, president of the CCA Creative Writing Club. “It was great to see students coming from as far as Coronado, Chula Vista and even Ramona!”

Students came to the conference for a variety of reasons. Many dream of becoming best-selling authors, others aspire to write for the stage or screen, and some are simply motivated by practicality.

“I was especially interested in taking ‘Writing the College Essay’ to improve my writing,” admitted Nikita Krishman, a freshman at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla. Although she’s considering journalism as a career, she believes “that workshop will be the most useful right now.”

Lindsey Fry, a junior at CCA, agreed. “In the college essay writing seminar, I learned some great tips about phrases to avoid when writing my applications next fall. I promise never to use the words, ‘truly’ or ‘suddenly’!”

According to Camilleri, the most popular workshops were the horror panel with Jonathan Maberry and Nancy Holder, Greg Van Eekhout’s “Seeing the World Through Your Character’s Eyes,” Kathy Aarons’ “The Road to Publication” and Allan Retzky’s “How to Start Your Story or Novel.”

The day started in the Proscenium Theater with a keynote speech by horror panelist and best-selling author Maberry.

“We live in an interesting era for publishing,” he told the students. “The industry is really listening to young writers and supporting them in the business of being a writer.”

Maberry shared his story of always wanting to be a writer but not knowing what he wanted to write. He started writing for his middle school newspaper in order to get a byline, and ended up receiving an academic scholarship to Temple University.

“I was always told, ‘Write what you know,’ so I pitched a story to Black Belt magazine about martial arts,” he said. “The editor wrote back, ‘Are you serious?’ I asked him what I had done wrong, and he sent me a sample of a good query letter. To this day, even though I’ve sold thousands of articles, I still use that template.”

Maberry offered to share that sample letter and encouraged the young audience to read everything they can get their hands on and to write every day.

“A lot of writers wait for the muse,” he said. “What a bunch of crap. That’s not writing; that’s mythologizing the process. A writer just puts his or her butt in the chair and writes.”

He also debunked the idea of writer’s block, telling students, “It doesn’t exist. As Ray Bradbury once told me, ‘Writing is 99 percent thinking and 1 percent typing.’ Every first draft in the history of literature has been terrible.”

Maberry shared fascinating personal stories about his own writers’ groups, which have included A-listers like Stephen King and Arthur C. Clarke, and his experiences writing greeting cards for Hallmark (he wrote the first 12 cards for the popular “Maxine” line) and achieving his dream job of writing for Marvel Comics.

Students took down every word on notepads and iPads as Maberry provided solid tips. He suggested doing a 15-minute writing prompt in a different genre every day (“I never want to get to a point where I think, ‘I can’t write that.’”) and pitching magazine articles on a subject you know well (“Your age doesn’t matter. Magazines are geared toward beginners, and they’re looking for basic how-to articles.”).

Maberry’s passion for his work was infectious, and the audience embraced his supportive message. “The door is open for you to go through,” he said. “Don’t let anyone stop you.”

According to Camilleri, “I’m still hearing from attendees how wonderful the keynote speech was. It was so inspiring.”

The day ended with another empowering — and hilarious— speech by Taylor Williamson, runner-up on “America’s Got Talent” and a graduate of Torrey Pines High School. He talked about comedy writing and the importance of remaining true to yourself in your work — and your life.

Already thinking about next year, Camilleri plans to continue heading the CCA Writers’ Conference until she graduates. She is proud of the fact that it is the only free writers’ conference for high school students in the country, thanks to generous sponsorship from Summa Education, Chipotle, Wells Fargo, Ranch & Coast, Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Del Mar and Print-Net, and she hopes other companies will join in next year so even more students can have the opportunity to attend.

The students aren’t the only ones who gain so much at this event. Author James Matlack Raney posted this on his Facebook page:

“Had such an amazing time at the CCA Writer’s Con yesterday. The students were unbelievably intelligent, engaged, and passionate. I also felt lucky to make new friends and meet some very successful and prominent authors, as well as catch up with good pals. Thanks so much to (volunteer) Kathy Krevat and crew for inviting me and hosting such a powerful event. Can’t wait until next year!”

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