Even at age forty-eight I worry that I will embarrass myself with my writing. I now possess two graduate degrees in writing, the most recent one earned in July 2010 from the Solstice Low-Residency MFA program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts. And although earning that degree has helped with my confidence as a writer, I’m still petrified.

It’s amazing how people can wreck you. In the seventh grade, I had an English teacher who asked the class on the first day to write an essay or story about “anything at all.” Anything at all, she said. I was unhappy in junior high, having been separated from my grade school friends for the first time. I was afraid. I wanted escape. I attempted a short story that was fantastical, full of creatures and non-humans talking about what clothes to wear. I remember using the word “bloomers,” meaning pants, as in “Why don’t you wear your pink polka-dotted blazing bloomers today?” My English teacher gave me a D- for the assignment, and worse, she wrote: This is nonsense, a ridiculous story. Way to challenge my creative mind, lady. Way to build my confidence. Ever since then, I’ve held a deep fear that my stories will sound like nonsense. That you will say, “Your writing is nonsense.” That you will turn away.

During my first graduate program in the late 1980s, I passed in my first workshop entry at the University of New Hampshire and experienced similar humiliation. My professor, Mark, laughed his way through the critique of the piece, a piece not intended to be humorous. He said, “Listen to that voice. What the hell is that voice? That’s not credible!” Followed by snickering. I was mortified. That was 20 years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been afraid people will snicker at the utter ridiculousness of my work.  Junior high all over again.

Yet I keep writing because as a writer, I have no choice. My soul writes even as my ego cringes.

I earned that second degree recently, the MFA degree in Creative Nonfiction. I’ve published stories and articles here and there for the last 20 years, in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals. I write a regular humor column for GAY e-magazine.  I intend to try to publish my essays and memoirs. I intend to write entire books. I continue to put myself out there. My soul writes, etc.

I call my blog, “The Early Draft,” as a way of mitigating my potential embarrassment by letting you know THAT I KNOW my early work is not my best work. I can be wordy, I can be nonsensical, I can use a ridiculous voice. Apparently, I can be a really shitty writer.

This is a brave step for me. I credit the Solstice MFA program – the family of writers I met there – with helping me to find this courage to share early-stage work and other writings, to take creative risks, to applaud the bad stuff, because it’s a step toward the good stuff. I hope here to share thoughts as well as early drafts of some of my writing. I never do this. But I’m going to try to do this. I hope to gain readers and be interesting. But sometimes, as you know, my entries will suck. Sometimes I will be mortified. I will sit with it.

So laugh, call me ridiculous, tell me I’m writing nonsense. It won’t stop me.


  1. You have courage– the only way to deal with fear is to move through it. You’re on your way. Exciting beginning. Good luck.


  2. Bravo! Cannot wait to keep reading… Those critics you mentioned are small-minded and do nothing but illustrate why they should not be working in education, where creativity and trying something different should be nurtured.
    In elementary school my principal called a meeting with my mother because he thought I was reading books that were “too adult” (I loved horror, I was reading the The Amityville Horror and anything by Stephen King), I should be reading Judy Blume (which I had already read all of) and other age appropriate material. My mother (who as you probably remember is crazy as a loon) told me when we got in the car “Just don’t bring your books to school”. However she did draw the line when I bought a book because I wasn’t allowed to see the movie called “The Hotel New Hampshire”, that one was take away LOL.


    • Thank you for the lovely comment, David. It’s so nice to know you’re reading this. I love your story about your own childhood teachers who tried to stifle your creativity. I hope you did read “The Hotel New Hampshire.” Have always loved stories of your “loony” mom.

      Thanks again to everyone who read my first entry. I will try to post every couple of weeks. Don’t want you to get sick of me.


  3. You, my dear, are neither nonsensical nor ridiculous. Methinks you touched nerves in those teachers that they did not want to deal with. Keep on keepin’ on. Your goals are in sight.


  4. If that’s what it took to get you to this wonderful writing place you now reside in, I think it was all worth it! I always love your stuff — your voice, your humor, your seriousness. It’s all good!


  5. Cindy,
    Congratulations on your degrees and the degree to which you hold the importance of writing. Cindy, as your “sister” in the Solstice MFA Family, do not tell me where those bullies who call themselves “teachers” live. If I knew their addresses, I’d walk up to their front door, knock until they answered, ask them if they know Cindy Zelman, an extraordinary person and a profound writer whose language and stories touch me deeply and whose friendship I treasure. I’d say, “I’m searching for Cindy so I can share my reverent admiration for her prose. I seek to tell her when it comes to clothes like ‘bloomers,’ a word that reminds me of the literary excellence of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce whose protagonist was ‘Leopold Bloom,’ that ‘Cindy may have a style that helps the world to smile and surely, you’ll agree, that can’t be bad.’ I also want to celebrate her and cheer her for overcoming the “petty tyrannies” ~ okay, I love to quote “Tootsie” ~ from the individual in front of whom I’m standing.”

    Then I’d say, “Remember ‘Pretty Woman?’ Remember Julia Roberts when she is dismissed by those bully salespeople on Rodeo Drive who think she doesn’t have the class and money to buy their clothes? Well, she does. And when she confronts the bullying, dismissive salespeople, who are fawning over her after she walks into their store wearing a new outfit, Julia’s character says, ‘Big Mistake!’ Well, mark, (lower case) and miss seventh grade English teacher, (lower case), ‘Big Mistake!’ Cindy Zelman is beloved by those who truly know her and who consider her an artist. Good day!”

    (Cindy, you would have to have a Fiction Writer who “lies and imagines” as a friend and Solstice Sister, right?) I’m sooo proud of YOU. Hugs, Carol


    • Carol,

      I’m absolutely exhausted. I’ve had a remarkably shitty week, but I’ve read your comment twice and all I can say is, “Wow,” and thank you! You’ve blown me away. It’s very special that you enjoy my writing and care so much for me as a person. I will bring you with me any time I have battles to fight with bullies. You’re the best. 🙂 Thank you, too, for subscribing to my blog. That means so much. Sending love, Cindy


      • Cindy,
        I imagine this week has been so sad for you. I ache for you upon reading of the loss of your beloved kitty. In the curious way “life” works ~ and I beg forgiveness if I’m not putting this delicately ~ as you grieve your heartbreak of Sweetie’s absence in your life (as do I), you are also “introducing” Sweetie to me through your words of devotion and unforgettable pictures. Therefore, “Sweetie” feels vibrantly alive to me through these images. What a beautiful cat. What gorgeous eyes. What magnificent coloring. What sweet sentiments of love you share for this member of your family. It’s as if your words offer magic to keep Sweetie alive for those of us just welcoming your darling into our lives. Thank you, Cindy.

        Your actions during this time of decision-making and questioning, heartache and confusion, have been noble, the essence of what love for another truly is. Please know I admire you. I trust you know how important it is for you to take great care of “you” at this time. Mugs of coffee, bowls of soup, playtime with Bunny, laughter and tears. Cindy, I’m keeping you close in my thoughts. I send my condolences and {{{hugs}}} from afar. Thank you also for bringing Sweetie into my thoughts to remain healthy and adorable always.

        I’m thrilled my words wow you, Cindy. I feel we go waaaaaay back. After all, you offered me the dearest welcome to the Solstice MFA Program. Remember? I love your humor. I loved being a student in your class. I continue to learn so much from you and your views.

        Now we have an agreement. Just holler anytime there’s a bully experience in progress, intellectual or otherwise. I’ll be there. Of course, YOU don’t need backup for you are fully capable of standing up to anyone. However, I’m here for you and will continue to cheer for you and your writing. After all, Cindy….you have something to say, something only YOU can share. Thank you for your courage to do it “your way.”

        {{{Another hug}}},


      • Hi Carol,

        Once again you’ve blown me away with your praise. It makes me happy that you are a reader of mine and one who thinks so much of me. I hope you are doing well in your final semester and I can’t wait to see you graduate! You’re the best.”

        With love,


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