Toward the end of February, I came across this post on Tessa Gratton’s blog in which she talks about her muse, Odin, and the day that it hit her that she needed to stop going half-way with her writing and go all in. The post moved me – because she’s a fabulous writer – but also because I’d been feeling a bit lost about my writing. I wanted to improve but felt like the critique sessions I attended only took me so far and I wanted to go deeper.
A little more than a week later, my husband was away in India and I was reading like a fiend. Feeling the unique satisfaction of finishing a good book, I turned to the back to read the acknowledgments, a habit I’d begun when I started researching agents about six months ago. I found the acknowledgements but I also found something I’m not accustomed to seeing at the back of a young adult fantasy novel: a bibliography of the works that influenced the writing of the book. Wow. How very cool! I thought to myself, "Okay – if this writer offers workshops, I’m gonna beg, borrow or steal to get in."
The book is ETERNAL and the author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and as it turns out, not only does she teach, she’s on the faculty at the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. Now, I had never once in my life considered obtaining the MFA degree. I’d been envious of people who had, put them on a pedestal, wondered about the mystery of it all but I’d never considered it for myself. Learning that Cynthia taught at this low-residency program intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. See, when I started writing my young adult fantasy novel, I stumbled across Cynthia’s website and was grateful for the advice she dispensed. Later, when I joined Twitter, I saw that she’s a strong presence and supports all writers, new and established. I figured that she was good people and if she taught at Vermont College, it was probably a supportive place for a new writer like me.
I ‘tweeted’ Cynthia and she gladly answered my many questions and urged me to apply. I called the Admissions office to ask for materials to be sent, I figured I’d peruse the materials, think it over and try to apply for the January residency. The woman I spoke to told me that the deadline was in one week and there were still spots available and that I should go ahead and send in an application. I begged my critique partner and the woman who helped me edit my manuscript to write the fastest recommendation letters in history, worked hard all week ,and sent the application – along with two essays and twenty pages of my manuscript. And then I let it go. It was my first attempt at getting into an MFA, if it didn’t work out, I’d try again in November.
I received a call on Good Friday from the Director of the program, welcoming me. She said they were ‘delighted’ to accept me. Delighted! Me! I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I really couldn’t. I listened to the message twice and then sat down with my husband to talk about how this would impact out lives. He was 100% supportive while I paced and wondered if I was crazy. In the end, his support and my crazy won and I’ve decided to leave my position at Swarthmore College so that I can focus more fully on the MFA experience. I feel very sad to leave my friends and the intellectual and supportive environment of Swarthmore. At the same time, this decision feels right and I’m excited to join the rest of my cohort in July at my first of five residencies in Montpelier, Vermont.
What’s funny is that I think this all happened exactly the way it was intended. I don’t think that I was ready or open or willing enough before this. The whole process of giving myself permission to write, then finding the courage to share the writing, and finally learning to accept criticism and keep writing has prepared me for this moment of going all in. And as if all of that wasn’t a gift in and of itself – I found out today that one of the Writers-In-Residence for my very first residency is none other than Holly Black, one of my most favorite young adult authors. Here we go, people. Time to go all in.