A Terrible Writer

You imagined the chair of the creative writing program spoke the same words as the head of the drama department. “She is terrible, but there is something about her.” You imagined the chair twisted his mustache hair while he looked at some other core faculty on the opposite side of his desk. Then you saw him put your application on a pile. Maybe this was all done digitally, but you visualized a huge pile of creative but badly written essays forming a tower on the right side of his desk.

As expected, a letter arrived in the mail. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to recognize the rejection letter. You concluded that rejection was nicer on linen stationary, but you were still crushed. However, there was a glimpse of hope in the words “waiting list.” Immediately you scanned the remainder of the pretty paper and looked for a phone number, because you wanted details, details of what “waiting list” meant. Was that some shit way to tell you that you sucked, for you to go away, and yes, (just like your drama teacher recognized many years ago), you were terrible?

So what if you were terrible? Would that stop you? It never stopped you before. You continued acting until the same head of the drama department said, “Well, we all thought you were terrible when you auditioned for the program, but I have to say, you have come a long way.” You smiled and continued on. You continued until you were every director’s second choice. You continued until you got paid for acting. You continued until you were in the actor’s union. You continued because you were no longer terrible.

Seeing that you were no longer terrible, an opportunity to direct came along. Direct? You never thought about directing, but you jumped at the chance because again, they said they would pay you. You directed and they gave you an award. You directed again, and they gave you another award. Then someone said, “Hey, did you ever think about teaching?” Teaching? Why not?

After years of teaching, you came to realize it was time to write your own acting book. However, there was a small problem: You’d never written before. Someone suggested an MFA program, and it became a plan. It was a good plan, but then came the “waiting list” note on special university paper. You dialed the number on the paper and asked for the chair of the department (the one with the mustache).

“No, it wasn’t a standard rejection letter,” he said.

“Oh?” you replied.

“Not at all,” he said. “In fact, many times those on the waiting list are accepted within a few weeks.”

You were confused, because you didn’t quite understand the protocol; nevertheless, you were encouraged. And, then, as promised, two weeks later, a voicemail message said, “We would like to congratulate on being accepted.”

You played the message back in case you heard wrong. Then your eyes began to warm, and you thought, “Hey, I’m not so terrible.”

Once you started the program, you changed your mind. You were definitely a terrible writer. Your first mentor was encouraging, even when he told you there was “nothing profound” in your writing. He gave you extra books to read. He looked for an anthology so you could see what “good writing” was. You read it, and yes, it was good; in fact, it was great. The next mentor told you that proper grammar would most likely be a lifelong challenge for you. She added, “But that’s okay, you can always hire an editor.” You almost quit. Your third mentor made you dig deeper, and you did, and you liked it. You don’t quit. Then the final mentor told you she did not want to hear about your book. Her job was to make you a better writer. You realized she had a point. You put the acting book project aside, and instead of writing your book, you started experimenting with point of view, syntax, style, and more. You took in her notes and you learned from her. You learned everything you possibly could from her.

Next you imagined that you did graduate, and you did receive that MFA. Later, there might be journals that published your work. There might be another award in your future, or there might not. You might even teach writing, or you might not. You might write that acting book, but then you might not. But, you do know that you’re probably not a terrible writer—anymore.

Then one day, you found a quote from Charles Dickens that summed up your journey. You posted it on a writing blog.

“Having some foundation for believing, by this time, that nature and accident had made me an author, I pursued my vocation with confidence. Without such assurance I should certainly have left it alone and bestowed my energy on some other endeavour. I should have tried to find out what nature and accident really had made me, and to be that, and nothing else.” 

You decided you loved the quote except for the last line, because you knew there would always be “something else.” There will always be something you are terrible at.

Andrea Tate is the Creative Nonfiction Editor for the literary journal Lunch Ticket. She is in the final stage of her MFA degree at Antioch University Los Angeles. Andrea has been published in A Daily Dose of Lit, The Acorn, and The Odyssey. Andrea is a drama teacher and an award winning theater director, who teaches her students the art of storytelling through improvisational acting. Her story “You” will be published in Extract(s) 2013 Anthology.