You are about to read what has affectionately been dubbed “The Audrey Brown Story” by Jill Christman. This makes me imagine it as a fabulously tacky TV movie of the week from the eighties in which I am played by Phoebe Cates. This has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but I think it’s important that you know.
The very short version of how I ended up in grad school for creative writing is that I had an embarrassing and bad undergraduate experience and felt the need to redeem myself academically. But due to said embarrassing and bad undergraduate experience, I didn’t have the GPA to get into the graduate program for creative writing.
Who am I kidding? I didn’t have the GPA to bail hay.
There’s a joke in the movie Tommy Boy where David Spade chides a lumbering Chris Farley for barely squeaking out of college in seven years with a D average. Chris Farley defensively says, “You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years.”
David Spade retorts with his trademark sour face, “I know. They’re called doctors.”
Yeah, it took me eight.
Everyone politely tried to save me from humiliating myself with a useless application. The kind secretary at the grad school office did everything but pat me on my head and send me back to bed like little Cindy Lou Who. “I can just tell you right now,” she said quietly the day I came to pay my application fee, “you should save your money.” She even slid the fifty dollar check back over to me across the counter while giving me a kind eye over the top of her glasses. Even the fluorescent lights in the office that day seemed to flicker and tink on and off at me in a way that said, “Forget about it.”
But with a recommendation from Jill Christman, a portfolio of freelance writing samples, and the mercy of an admissions committee, I was granted a probationary entry into grad school for creative writing. It was a stay of intellectual execution.
That first semester was full of more reading than I could keep up with and writing assignments that challenged me to work in genres I had never tried before. I worked so hard for my grades that the B I earned in my first literature class felt like a gold medal from the Olympics. That Christmas I was able to celebrate the end of my probationary status.
Graduate school is difficult—I mean really really difficult. It’s long hours and tough criticism and being pushed outside of your boundaries. You know what else is difficult? Wasting away while ignoring that creative longing that sits hungry in your gut. Trying to ignore the feeling that you know your writing could be better. Could be more. Also difficult? A job. Sooner or later, we all have to get one of those. Any job would be great, but the job you know you have the potential for or a career that you’ve dreamed of your whole life is pretty hard to get too. Graduate school for creative writing can be the precursor to countless jobs in any creative field. Because if you can write well and pay attention while you read and prove that you are an adaptable human being who can face a challenge and not back down, you can pretty much do anything you want. Except time travel. I haven’t figured that one out.
My husband and I moved to Orlando in June, just a couple of weeks after I finished the creative writing program. I was going to be an assistant to the editor of Orlando Attractions Magazine while continuing my freelance. Just a month after moving, the director of the local TV show associated with the magazine, aptly titled “Orlando Attraction Magazine: The Show” left to start his own series. My editor called me to ask whether or not I would be interested in taking over. But they needed somebody who could also write the script, and he knew that I recently graduated with my M.A. in English and had done some video work before. I said yes before he could even finish his first sentence.
I write constantly now and I’m not exaggerating. I write diplomatic emails to the big wigs who own locations where we want to film. I write to the actors to give them notes. I write the script for The Show each week, and when I’m not actually writing it, I’m writing it in my head. I also just sold my first screenplay, but I literally can’t tell you anything about it for legal reasons. (The threat of legal action might sound scary, but to me right now, it’s really exciting.) My career will change over the years; it will wax and wane just like everyone else’s and who knows if that screenplay will ever see the light of day as an actual film. But still…I’m writing. Which is all I really ever wanted.
None of this is to my credit, by the way. Well, okay, maybe a little bit of it is to my credit. But I would’ve been too insecure to step up in a situation like the one that presented itself with The Show if I hadn’t gone through the creative boot camp that is graduate school. Boot camp for nerds, where instead of crawling under barbed wire, we’re forced to do close readings of literature that changed the world and learn how to say what we really mean, word by razor-sharp word, as we put our hands to keyboard.
If you’re thinking about going to graduate school for creative writing or choosing it as a major in your undergraduate career—or if you are the parent of an aspiring writer and you have horrific visions of your child eating saltines and getting ten dollar haircuts for the rest of their lives—never fear. Whatever career path you or they choose, I assure you that communicating and writing will be a massive part of daily life.
The biggest truth about graduate school is that it is what you make of it. Graduate school and college in general can be an amplifier for what you are already doing. I came in with a few years of freelance under my belt and a lifelong passion for theme parks. I left with the confidence to take some professional leaps connected to that passion that I might not have had without those two years to develop my style and my work ethic.
If you’re thinking about whether or not to go to school for creative writing, if it’s something you long to do but you’re nervous about, do it. No matter how many really nice well-meaning people push your checks back at you.