finding a “real” job

Hope you guys are enjoying the guest blogger series. Here is the next installment from yet again another fellow writer and MFA Candidate from Fairfield University:

Brooke Law is pursuing her MFA degree through Fairfield University’s low residency program and is currently working on a novel.  She writes about her favorite books at Books Distilled, which is a TLC Book Tour featured blog.  She lives with her husband in Long Island, NY.

I got married last June and two weeks later my husband and I moved (from each of our parents’ houses and our apartments in Durham, NC) to Long Island, where he had been appointed head pastor of a small church.  I had never set foot on Long Island until the day we moved into our house.

I managed to land a job as a waitress a few weeks later so I had some income while I looked for a “real” job.  My background was in nonprofits, and specifically I wanted to work with a nonprofit focusing on education policy.  Opportunities were nonexistent, unless I was willing to make a 90-minute commute to and from NYC.  Being newly married and also fiercely protective of my personal time, I wasn’t.

So during my slow lunch shifts at the restaurant I daydreamed.  At first I wished we were still living in Durham (which surprised even me) and I wished I could go back to my old job.  I was bored.  I was resentful.

Slowly I accepted the fact that I couldn’t change where we were living. Instead of complaining in my head while I sat in the near-empty restaurant, I took a second order pad from the closet and began writing scenes for a novel I’d started after graduating from college but hadn’t touched in over a year.  Then I went home each afternoon and typed them up, trying to ignore the shouting in my mind that I was wasting my time.

That fall I read a book of short stories published by a kid I’d had a writing class with in college.  He had been a decent writer our sophomore year, but he had become an amazing writer in the intervening years.  I thought my usual thought when I read something beautiful: I will never be that good of a writer.  And there in the darkened, empty restaurant, something flared up inside me and I determined that I would work until I became that good of a writer.

A few days later I found an email I’d sent to myself the year before about a low-residency MFA program through Fairfield University.  I liked the structure of the program and I loved that the residency was based in Mystic, CT–I’d lived there for a semester during college and thought it was a beautiful town.

I emailed the director, Michael White, with a few questions, and he wrote back an hour later to tell me there were still spots open for the December residency.  I put together my application in two days, got recommendations, called Vassar for my transcript.  Four days after submitting my writing sample I received an email from Michael, noting that he was impressed with the first chapter of my novel and as long as all my other paperwork was in order, I could consider myself accepted.

I was thrilled.  I was going to be a writer! I signed the acceptance forms, quit my waitressing job, started looking for a full-time office job so I could pay for school.

And then panic set in.  I got my tuition bill in the mail and freaked out.  I was being foolish.  Following my dream in this way was much too expensive.  I was being selfish.  My husband and I already had a lot of school debt, and I was just adding to it for a profession that might never pay me a living wage.  I cried.

And then the storm passed.  I remembered that I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first learned to write my name. I had tried writing a novel on my own but knew I could do better if someone taught me. After facing the deluge of fear and standing firm, I felt at peace.

Now I wake up early each morning to spend an hour writing before I start my day.  Every morning I spend time getting to know my characters more deeply, learning more about setting and dialogue, and every morning that time is a blessing I never imagined I could have.  And once a month I get in-depth feedback from a wonderful faculty mentor, an accomplished writer in his own right.

I have always wanted to be a writer, and now I am.  That is the main thing that has changed: my mindset.  I’m not waiting around to become a writer, and I don’t have to get a book deal to become a writer.  I have become a writer already, in my sheer commitment to and love of this work.  I’m not published yet, but I will be someday. Sometimes it’s scary to spend so much time and energy on a process so deeply creative and vulnerable, but it’s a relief to be afraid I won’t make it as a writer–rather than being afraid of regretting my life because I never tried.

6 comments

  1. A.J. says:

    I love this post, because there is so much to be said for changing your mindset. I think that most of us in the MFA program have had the same misgivings you wrote about in your post. I know I do. I feel like I confront those things every day. When I quit my reporting job to finish the MFA program, I kept hearing this little voice in my brain that said things like “You’re not a writer, you’re a freeloader. All you do is sit around all day and make things up.” I think one of the hardest things to do was to change my mindset. Sometimes I still hear the little voice, and I just have to sit back and remind myself that I’m a writer, and my hours of sitting at the computer every day are part of my job.
    Great post!

    • Brooke (Books Distilled) says:

      AJ, thanks so much! I know, it’s a constant change of mindset–it’s not one of those things that you change your mind and it’s done. It’s definitely almost a daily shift. But important!
      Looking forward to seeing you at the residency in just a few weeks!

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