I have enjoyed writing for most of my life, in my diary as a kid and then in composition and journalism courses in college, but I have always viewed it as more of an interest, not how I defined myself. I wasn’t “a writer.”
In my paid professional life, I’ve written copy that has bolstered attendance at Chamber of Commerce events, sold typewriters and copiers for an office equipment supplier, improved weekly Pizza Hut sales, generated interest in energy saving programs for a national electric and gas supplier, educated optometrists to the benefits of installing in house ophthalmic lens processing equipment, increased memberships at the YMCA, and enhanced awareness of the nonprofit status of a senior living and services provider.
But when I applied to the MFA program five years ago as a 54-year-old, I wasn’t comfortable describing myself as a writer. I’m good with other terms. Overachiever. Marketing professional. Friend. Wife. Mom. Triathlete. While I’ve enjoyed the short, promotional writing I’ve done in various jobs throughout my career, I’d never written creatively as a way to share a story. Or to work through an issue I was struggling with. Or to document something important in a compelling way. Storytelling was something I’d only ever done aloud.
Bay Path University’s billboard ads, featuring their online Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction, reeled me in. Hmm. Creative nonfiction. That sounded appealing. Reading the course descriptions and blog posts from faculty and participants, I yearned to be part of a writer’s world. To be someone who read daily. Who wrote daily. And not just work-related topics to be more effective in my job.
But I was filled with uncertainty.
When I applied for the program, I probably had not written more than 250 words on one topic in the thirty-plus years since graduating from college. The task to prepare a writing sample was daunting, and had me second-guessing myself and whether the program was really for me. How does someone with a very full, full-time job add a part-time job of graduate school?
Maybe I could do this. Maybe.
Most nights after dinner, my husband heads to the gym, and I head to the yellow chair. Sitting in that wingback chair, in the corner of our spare bedroom, I write, balancing my MacBook on my lap, my feet propped on the matching yellow ottoman.
In those sessions, I let myself put words together, sometimes badly, knowing the first or second or even fifth draft is far from final. The next morning, I’ll read through it again, make another round of edits, and then head to work at my job as a marketing professional at a local nonprofit. Only many edits and rewrites later, am I ready to call it complete. My work in the MFA program let me develop the tools to write, in different ways for different purposes. So that I could emerge a writer.
Am I accomplished? Successful?
My MFA instructors and classmates have shared their insight, provided encouragement, and helped me find my voice. Gaining confidence in my ability to put together words on a page that others want to read gives me a feeling of accomplishment. To me, that also means I’ve been successful at crafting an essay or article that achieves the goal of informing, educating, or bringing joy to those who read it.
Commercial success is more complex. An essay, article, or book may have a brilliant marketing plan and the support of a major publisher, which goes a long way in gaining readers. Is that writer more accomplished than the writer of a piece that is self-published and not marketed well? Or not published at all? I think a well-written piece indicates a level of competence and the writer should feel, and be described and regarded as, accomplished.
I continue to struggle with an obnoxious inner critic, frequently comparing the quality of my writing with others. While I still question myself, my community of support has helped me see this is my journey. My writing doesn’t have to be better than others’ and my views don’t have to be perfect, just honest and respectful.
Why do I choose to juggle my part-time life as an MFA student creating posts for my blog, along with maintaining my full-time job in marketing for a nonprofit? Because I have stories to tell—I’m a writer.