On Saturday, October 2, 135 writers—both students and graduates—flooded the Rogers Communication Centre at Ryerson University. Wordstock, an annual writing festival organized by the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association, included an hour-long address by the keynote speaker, Ian Brown of the Globe and Mail. The day was filled with various different writing seminars. The festival is geared towards writers young and old who want to both better their craft and learn from professionals in the field.
“Engaging storytellers are unparalleled. Real writing takes time! Stories are more important than topics,” said Brown. “Stories are the only kind of journalism that gets re-read and remembered. Write about something that grabs you. Don’t worry if it will end up getting published or getting you paid.”
This year’s Wordstock attendees exhibited how “some newspapers are struggling”, to quote Paul Lima, senior lecturer of “(re)Discover the Joy of Writing” and “Successful Freelance Writing”. Right now, the lack of jobs plagues some Ryerson journalism graduates.
“Wordstock, as a student volunteer, is a good time because you get to see how alumni interact with each other. You get to hear stories about their time in school and their search for work,” said Matthew Demers, a Ryerson journalism student.
“It’s almost a comfort, hearing that they went through a lot of the same hardships we did way before the economy downturn and the digital revolution put our prospects into uncertain waters. Hearing their answers to our questions gave me a bit of confidence that I’ll be able to find work and refine my style.”
Lima has spoken at Wordstock for the past 10 years and feels that the dwindling job market for journalism actually supports the need for freelance writers. Lima stated that a writer must build a strong “business vision” for the time they put into their work and to “not worry if it will end up making you money. Write for the sake of writing! When I write, I get what I like to call ‘writer’s high’,” he said. “And like most addicts, I need my fix.”
This year’s Wordstock turnout was nearly half of what it was in previous years. Bryan Cantly, head organizer of the event, believes the smaller turnout is a product of cutbacks in market newsrooms. The Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association notes that the attendance this year, at $50 a head for students ($75 for the public), allowed the organizers to break even for costs with 135 in attendance, but weren’t looking to profit.
“Wordstock has a 15-year run, and there is no question that there’s a serious affection for low-cost seminars,” said Cantly. Wordstock has evolved over the years from its 1995 inception under the name “Wordstock of Writer’s Workshop (WWW)”. For example, the keynote originally lasted two hours but was later shortened to one.
Wordstock has hosted such big names as Peter Mansbridge and Stewart McLean.
“The future of Wordstock is currently up in the air,” Cantly stated. “We’ll see what becomes of it in 2011, but either way, I urge any writing students to come out and participate at Wordstock as it’s a great opportunity to learn about the craft from professionals in the field.”
“As a journalism student, I appreciated that all of the workshop topics were relevant to young writers and addressed current issues facing journalists, like the lack of traditional newsroom jobs,” said Emma Prestwich, another Ryerson journalism student. “I thought it was well-organized, and there were tons of resources available.”
This year’s Wordstock attendance saw a 60/40 student-to-graduate ratio.