Nerve-Wracking 101: English Edition

Gooood morning! I hope everyone had a relaxing, rejuvenating, and re-energizing weekend. With fall in full swing, let’s get back to the grind and finish out this semester strong; you can do it!

Now, on to more English-y things…calling all writers out there on the intergalactic net, remember the first time you let someone read your work?

It was absolutely FRIGHTENING. You were baring your naked soul to be judged and critiqued. Writing is very personal and intimate, it takes some serious guts to hand over those pages for someone to read.

English major Alicyn Newman recently wrote on this very topic. In her essay, she talks very candidly about those feelings and her journey as an English major. This piece is SO TRUE! When I was reading it, I caught myself saying “AMEN” approximately every 3.4 seconds.

Because the English major is so diverse, sometimes it’s nice to know that we’re not all that different. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know you’re not alone. Check it out and give Alicyn some encouragement; she is SUPER talented.

Thank you, Alicyn, for sharing this with all of us!

The First Story: A Personal Narrative

Letting people read what I’ve written has been one of the most bone-chilling terrors of my short existence. So, naturally, I decided to pursue an English major in Creative Writing. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as spilling your emotional, intellectual, and spiritual guts onto the notorious blank page to be critically examined by well-meaning classmates and professors. It is what I expect being a sheet on a clothesline must feel like: having substance, yet being vulnerable to the slicing wind. It’s like stretching my arms wide and my hands empty and letting the gusts of potential criticism and failure rock my frame. I wasn’t as afraid of this as a young writer. In fact, I’m not sure when the fear of vulnerability encroached, but it wasn’t so much there when I wrote the story that started it all.

It began when I was young, very young. I was a storyteller from an early age, but it wasn’t until I was twelve that I tried to write that first novel. Inspired by a song, it was a complex story (so I thought), with interesting, dynamic characters (again, so I thought) and brilliant prose (I hoped). I hunkered in front of my computer every night typing into the glare and spent most of my waking moments away from the keyboard daydreaming of these characters and their riveting story. I told my best friend about it and we brainstormed together on her bed, the white ceiling space turning into our imagined alternate universes above us. I was young and fearless and naΓ―ve, writing with no mental editor in my head telling me to go backspace and make it perfect next time.

Another novel followed that first one. It fizzled in the middle, but sparked an idea for a third book that would complete the trilogy. I finished that one. (I didn’t know about word count at the time, and that these novels I was writing were in fact novellas, but as a kid, anything with more than five chapters seemed like a tome to me). I broke away from the trilogy to write a story about a group of teens who get trapped in a building and experience a game of β€œMurder in the Dark” gone wrong. My originality escalated when I delved into writing the first novel of a second trilogy, this one about a dystopian world, warfare, and its young and miraculously talented male protagonist.

Seven years later, I return to the haphazard debut novel in my mind, as well as those that followed, and I inwardly wince. It was a highly flawed beginning, to say the least. Being a writer is a continual process of flawed beginnings and constant revision as you spot all the weaknesses in your works. I have learned this in the best and hardest ways, but since that day that I wrote the opening words of my first novel as a twelve-year-old, I have not stopped writing, to the point that I chose English as my career path. My higher grades in English courses had something to do with it, as did my hunger for reading, but when it all comes down to it, not writing was never an option for me.

My early works were cringe-worthy, but I never stopped. I never stopped writing because to stop writing was to cease improving, and improving I was, step by step, sentence by sentence. I improved with each writing class, each English course, and each novel my eyes devoured. I improved while studying reference books, writing character profiles, and gazing listlessly at the ceiling wondering why I wanted to try to make it in life as a writer. I improved even by staring at the notorious blank page when I was a high school senior panicking slightly because honestly, who makes a living by writing?

People can, and people do. When I registered for WKU’s Creative Writing program, I registered for risk and vulnerability. As a Creative Writing major, I am risking job stability, and risking my comfort and confidence by letting people read my works-in-progress. It is not something I have considered lightly. In fact, I’ve faced a lot of opposition from well-meaning folks who are concerned enough to tell me I should major in business or something that can guarantee to put food on the table. I appreciate their concern, I really do. But to not write? To not pursue that hunger for stories that I’ve been stumbling toward since I awakened to it as a child?

Life may take me in a variety of directions, but that first story – no matter how flawed it was – set me on the winding path toward this Creative Writing degree. Will it lead to publication? Teaching workshops? Writing for magazines or literary journals? Running a popular blog? Time will tell. Time, hard work, and experience. If I have learned one thing from my early stories, it’s that writing is a continual process of growth, and I am thankful to be pursuing a career that allows me to watch that process unfold. Looking back, I am inspired by the fearless young writer I once was, and by realizing how far I’ve come in my craft since those days. But there is still much to learn, and that is why I’ve chosen English, a field in which I’ll never stop learning, growing, and hopefully, writing.

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