If you guys don’t know there is a smattering of master’s program specifically for writing for children. This is a very cool thing. I went to Vermont College of Fine Arts. V.C.F.A offers a master’s in writing for children and young adults.
What was it like?
Um…. It was great. No plots were stolen.
But when I first got there it was a little scary.
You know how when you go into the cafeteria and realize that you know absolutely nobody. No, seriously, and everyone else looks like they know everybody else and so you just stand there with your tray… wondering how you can go into the kitchen and eat with the cooks because they seem really nice… the cooks. Not the students.
That’s what it was like.
And then you meet all the other people in your class and it feels like everyone is SOOOOOOOOO much cooler than you are and they all sort of have roles and personas already.
There’s HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES and SHE OF THE PEACEFUL POETRY and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN and PICTURE BOOK GURU and I AM FLUFFY and then of course, THE ONE OTHER MAN WHO MIGHT BE CREEPY. This is a children’s writer’s program after all. So, most of the amazing writers will be women.
Anyway, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everyone else was so cool, and here I was a newspaper editor, a woman with a voice like a muppet, a girl from poor, a person who had been sleeping in her car two years ago, a person who had seizures and cognitive degeneration from those seizures.
And I was supposed to hang out with these brilliant people?
And basically I almost had the biggest case of imposter syndrome ever and a complete breakdown the first residency until Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down and said, “Carrie, writers never feel like they fit in. That’s why we’re writers.”
And I said, “But I’m from Maine. I’m not used to all these people talking everywhere about writing. Actually, I’m not used to people, which is part of why I wear a parka inside buildings at all times.”
And she said, “I know. I’m from Maine too, but it’s good. Really. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but it’s good. And parkas are fine.”
“How about cardigans? And sweaters?” I asked. “I gave birth to my daughter during a July heatwave and I wore a sweater.”
“Carrie, you can wear anything or nothing and still be a writer,” she said.
And it turned out she was right.
I stuck it out and after a year a story I wrote during National Novel Writing Month was picked up off an editor’s slush pile. More on that is here.
The thing is: Everyone in my class at Vermont helped each other and HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES eventually WROTE PEACEFUL POETRY occasionally, and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN wrote an occasional picture book, and everyone in my class just basically loved each other, creating a happy ending much better than any 1980s teen movie and we eventually all crunched up together and looked all emotional and dramatic but right together.
And I kind of miss it because as Molly Ringwald (1980s actress always wearing pink or black) said in the movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, “Us loners got to stick together.”
And you know, writers wrote that line. And they also wrote that movie. Which is why we all need to support each other because sometimes… well… we writers stink.
We do not have to support each other when we are creepy, however, or when we are being cruel to other groups (bloggers, librarians, races, religions, genders, identities, different physical and mental abilities), but it’s nice to support each other when we feel sad or bad or when we feel like we can’t be a writer at all.
Anyway, I really miss learning about craft and becoming an exponentially better writer because of amazing writer/teachers/fellow students.
And I really miss throwing cookies at people in the cafeteria and then looking all happy-faced.
Us loners got to stick together, baby, and that counts for writers and readers both, and writing programs give us writers a place to do it. So congratulations to all my friends who are starting programs, and to all my friends who aren’t. Because, basically, we all have our own paths and they are all cool.
Well, almost all of them are cool.
Remember opening spaces for people who might not have entrance into those spaces historically is the coolest thing of all.
So, let that be your motivation! In life and in writing you don’t have to be the culturally created ‘norm’ to be awesome. You go out there and tell your story and live your truth no matter how much you don’t feel like you fit in or how much you feel like you do fit in.
That doesn’t matter.
You are what matters.
Random Marketing and Book Things
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!
Kirkus Review says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.
The podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, has a new episode Tuesday. Check it out.
I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.