I was a 2011 M.F.A. graduate and long out of the stringent routine I had set for myself while attending classes. So, when the request for me to return to Wilkes University for the 10th Anniversary came, I was both surprised and excited, as it meant I could reconnect with the people who had profoundly affected my life. When the email arrived asking if I might do a reading as part of the celebration, my skin prickled with excitement.
I was both honored and humbled that Wilkes sensed my love for my experience at the school and invited me to be a part of their very special celebration.
I was 55-years-old when I started to pursue my dream of writing. I was also blonde and married to a Pollack. Not a good start for any dream. Because I am more about relationships than I am about the structural components of learning, I struggled with the fear of my own competency to learn. I was a comma queen and functionally illiterate when it come to most punctuation.
But, I realized I’d have to take the chance. I kept depending on the thought that people would enter my life and encourage me, as I encouraged them. It’s just who I am. People mean something to me.
The first day I stepped onto the Wilkes campus, all of the confidence I’d rallied in myself disappeared. I became a jellyfish of emotion. What was I doing here? Can I even really write? Will I ever be good enough? Will they like me?Boy, look how young everyone is!
A quiet man hunched in a corner of the hallway just outside of the classroom door, as though he too, was afraid to enter. I approached him and introduced myself sensing his uneasiness. In moments, we bonded. I learned of his goals, his fears and his determination to become a writer, a story that touches me to this day. We entered our first classroom together and spotted a vivacious woman who stole the room with her joyful attitude. I knew we, too, would become close friends. With each introduction, my fears fell away and I quickly understood how very much alike we all were.
When I was first introduced to many of our talented instructors, Sara Pritchard, Bev Donofrio, Kaylie Jones, Kevin Oderman, Lenore Hart and Mike Lennon, among many others, I blushed at their talent. I felt so out of place. Yet, those moments snowballed into friendships that have enhanced my writing and my life.
Throughout that first week and in the years to follow, more relationships blossomed. When I left each residency and needed good advice or craft suggestions, I found myself able to call on my Wilkes instructors and my newfound friends. When I needed a recommendation or ideas, they supported me and helped me find my way. Years later, those same people are still there for me, encouraging, advising and criticizing when my work needs improvement. Along the way, I learned to understand the struggles and the sacrifices we each had to make in order to live the life of a writer, something only another writer “gets.”.
In the past few years, I have enjoyed watching my cohort succeed. The friends I made at Wilkes have written some of the most beautiful words I have ever read. From a distance, I shared their joy as many were singled out and deservedly praised. I never felt good enough to be one of them, but I worked on.
Then one day, because of a Wilkes friendship, my first manuscript was picked up by Booktrope Publishing who subsequently created a Christian imprint, Vox Dei, just for my work and the work of other Christian writers they hoped would follow. Many others did follow. Somehow, my words had made a difference. Since that time, and because of the friends I made at Wilkes, I have recommended other writers to the Wilkes program, and to agents and publishers I have built relationships with.
The day my work was singled out as a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis Contest and the Kindle Book Awards, I knew the true value of my Wilkes degree. I had become a wordsmith, honed by my experience at Wilkes. Because of the awards, the incredible teaching and the relationships I’ve made through Wilkes, I became a regular contributor to Book Fun, a monthly online Christian magazine that boasts over 400,000 readers. I have also had the privilege to be a requested speaker at writing workshops in the United States and Canada, as well as a judge for several prestigious contests, gifts that have given me the experience to hone my own work.
The relationships I’ve made though Wilkes have not only benefited my writing, they have benefited my personal life. Just this past weekend, I spent a writing getaway with the incredibly talented and vivacious writer I met in our first class. For years, Gail Martin has encouraged me, guided me and lifted my spirits; a true gift afforded me by my time at Wilkes.
As I prepare for my return to Wilkes for the 10th Anniversary of the writing program, I no longer feel the anxiety I felt on that first day at Wilkes. It has been replaced by confidence and gratitude. The relationships I have cultivated have long overshadowed the sacrifices and the insecurity I once had and added great value to my Wilkes degree.
For me, the long-term worth of my degree has come less in the mechanics of my learning, though it was a phenomenal experience, but more in the form of the relationships that were created with the students and instructors I met at Wilkes. I will ever be grateful to Wilkes for giving me the opportunity to engage with such incredibly talented professionals in a delightfully relaxed educational atmosphere!
I would not change a thing about my experience at Wilkes! It is because of the support of each of the dedicated people I have met that I now get to call myself a published author!
MANY THANKS THE WILKES CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM AND A VERY HAPPY 10TH ANNIVERSARY!