Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Becoming a Writer

Two years ago, to the day, I began my very first writing workshop. I had taken writing classes before then, throughout college, and I did do an MFA program for screenwriting. But that day was the first day I had set out, post college and grad school life, to become a real writer.

A few months before that workshop I had decided to tell the story of a woman who went on a physical and emotional journey. I knew that the premise was: ‘people will help you discover what you’re looking for’. But that was all I knew.

Somehow, I had convinced my employer to pay for a writing workshop that year, telling the company that writing classes would help me write content at work which, of course, it would. But the decision was personal. I signed up early for a workshop at the New School, only to learn that something had gone wrong with my application and I was put on the waitlist. I showed up on the first day and the instructor said: “Stay for the class, but there’s no way you’re getting in. We’re too full.” I remember saying to him, “But you have to let me in. I need this.” What I wanted to say, in typical dramatic Melissa writer fashion was: “I will be lost without this. I will drown. At the same mediocre job. The same mediocre life.” Call it over the top but that was how I felt.

Shut out of the New School, I managed to sneak into another writing workshop at Gotham Writer’s. The class started on my birthday and I had no idea what to expect. After the 1st week, I already had people critiquing my pages. Twenty people sitting in a circle telling me what they thought. It felt like they were critiquing years of work that had sat in the drawer.

I remember those early critiques. Almost all of the people in my class thought my protagonist was insane. Like, clinically insane. I sat back and listened. I didn’t say a word. They were all excited that I was going to write from the point of view of an insane person. How exciting, they said, it’s all very Girl, Interrupted. I like how you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It’s so obvious that she’s completely spiraling out of control.

Interesting. Considering that I was writing from the point of view of an articulate, intelligent, logical young woman who I had intended to be perfectly sane.

Talk about missing the mark.

Since that day, I grew a lot as a writer. I gradually nailed down the voice, figured out what my story was actually about, who the characters were, and where they would end up. One would think I would have figured all of that out before I started out, but such is the writing life of a panster (i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than plots out their story.) The people I met in that class became my writing group. I started a blog and learned about the business of publishing. I became involved in the writing community online, ‘meeting’ published and unpublished writers alike.

The day I stepped foot in that workshop I intended to become a writer. I had wanted it for a long time. And there had certainly been other steps I had taken earlier in my life that reflected that intention. But that day was different. It was the day I said, I am going to live this life. A writer’s life. How fitting, that it also happens to be the day I was born.


  1. Happy Birthday...

    Thanks for sharing your journey (so far) with us..

    I hope you've had a wonderful day!

  2. Happy Birthday! I really like reading your stories. You became a writer long ago, I suspect, but it's cool you remember the day you made a commitment to the life.

    May your dreams come true!

  3. happy birthday, melissa.

    what a great "coincidence" it was that you took that class, and ultimately made that important decision on the day you were born.