Grad School?

nudes with violin, acrylic on canvas, 2006,

In 2000/2001, I chose not to go to grad school for creative writing. I was accepted into the University of Washington’s Creative Writing program in Seattle. I think there were more than a thousand applications and only six people were chosen. So, it was obviously an honor. Why I chose not to go, and how any writer makes that choice is the subject of this blog.

It seems such a loaded subject for writers to talk about creative writing grad school. Those who’ve gone often are passionate about their experience, and some perhaps even judge those who haven’t as not being as professional in their writing careers. Those who haven’t gone are just as passionate about their choice not to go, and have their own judgements about the insularity of grad schools.

And then there are all the people I coach and teach, who grapple with the question for themselves. Should I go grad school? Will it give me the edge I need to get published? Will it provide the instruction I need to take my fiction to the next level? Is it worth it? Will I be too in debt afterwards? (And these questions come for most people on top of their fears they won’t get into a school…)

It goes without saying that to choose to go or not is a personal matter. I’m writing about my experience as a way to simply address the issue.

I could say the reason I turned down the UW was because of my repetitive strain injury and my worry that I couldn’t meet the class writing deadlines. (I can’t type for long periods, and must use voice software.) But I’m not sure that’s true. The library had computers with the most up-to-date voice software, and I had voice software at home.

I could say my reason was financial: I would have finished grad school $40,000 in debt and would have to get a job to pay back the student loan instead of doing writing daily as I was doing then, and as I do now.

I have often used these reasons, but in reality, I chose not to go because I didn’t want anyone to critique my voice. I wanted to find it on my own, to let it run free over the wild serengetti. I wanted to goof off with it, not always take it so seriously. I was deeply worried I would be hit full force with critique after critique and I simply didn’t want that.

I did go to meet the professors, and I did check out the current fiction students by going to one of their public readings. When making a decision, always go gather the facts; don’t sit and wait for the decision to “happen to you”. Doing these things actually solidified my feelings of not wanting my voice subjected to critique.

Was it an easy decision? God, no. After acceptance, on two ocassions as I drove to the school to check out different programs, I had such bad panic attacks within a mile of the school, I had to pull the car over.

Was I just afraid? Or was the universe sending me a message: Don’t Do This? I tried to force myself. I tried to drive through the muddle of my anxiety, to no avail. I tried and tried. Wasn’t it the professional thing to go to graduate school? Hadn’t I had extreme good luck with my bachelor’s degree in journalism? Wasn’t I blessed to even be accepted?

When I finally called and turned down the offer (much to the school’s dismay), I still spent months worrying about whether I made the right decision.

I realize now that I wanted and needed the space around me to explore my eccentricities. I actually became a visual artist around this time…I wanted NO RULES, just me and my soul expressing itself in whatever way it saw fit.

This is why I started teaching, and coaching. The whole concept of Art of Storytelling is to nurture our soul’s organic drive to express itself through art. I wanted to give others a venue for exploring how their souls wanted to speak. To not critique, but feed. To banish the no.

To nod Yes, Yes, Yes. To the soul.

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