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.