Hello, my name is Daniel Sanchez, and I’m a writer.
“Every one who writes has recurring fears and doubts about their writing,” says Writers’ Program instructor Harry Youtt. “The challenge is to keep these fears and doubts in check, so that the output keeps coming.”
I have to admit, I’m still working on that.
It’s said that you become a writer the moment you start to consider the possibility. If that’s true, then I became a writer at the age of 10 when, on the road home from Las Vegas in the back of my parents’ beat up old Dodge van, I composed an epic saga (five pages long) about people trapped in a theme park come to life. Somewhere between that first masterpiece and college, I let the dream of being a writer take a backseat to more pressing concerns. Only now, as a Program Assistant for the Writers’ Program, have I come back to it by enrolling in a writing class. My first choice: The Art of Creative Nonfiction with Sandra Kobrin.
It is said that writers are drawn to nonfiction because they believe that something within their own lives or in the lives of others has meaning and is worth sharing. As I sat at my desk, night after night, I searched for meaning as the short essay I’d been assigned in class became a seventeen-page treatise on the uncertainty and self-destructiveness of a recent college graduate. I thought it was brilliant stuff, riveting and pure in its emotional honesty.
That is, until it left the safety of my bedroom and entered the workshop.
Sitting there under the interrogation lights of a UCLA classroom, I rubbed my sweaty hands together in silent terror. My heart beat like a brass band between my ears and my breath caught somewhere between my lungs and my mouth. I looked around at my fellow classmates and wondered, “Who are all these people and how come they write so much better than I do? Why would anyone care what I have to say? Oh no, the teacher’s looking at me…”
With that, I cleared my throat, looked around at a room of expectant faces and prepared to read. But first I said, “Ok, this is going to suck.”
Every day, doctors, lawyers, auto-mechanics, school teachers, and even Writers’ Program staff members decide that they want to be writers. Individuals, whether they’re at the top of their respective professions or fresh out of college like me, suddenly find themselves staring up from the bottom of a mountain, atop which literary giants laugh and throw lightning bolts down at the lowly commoner who would dare indulge his or her creativity. As both advisor and student, I’ve been able to look at this daunting task from two perspectives. Going into my first course, I pretty much convinced myself that what I had to say was meaningless and couldn’t possibly resonate with those same doctors, lawyers, and other professionals that I’d spoken to countless times on the phone. I’ve also come to know the amazing wisdom and generosity of those who teach for the Writers’ Program. Their guidance is the perfect antidote to the little devil that sits on all our shoulders.
As my classmates sat looking up at me with expectant eyes, I tried to calm myself by thinking of the sage words of wisdom I had heard from instructors.
Stephanie Waxman: “You are usually not the best judge of your own work, especially in its freshest form. It is a great gift to have your peers review your work, especially within the safety of a Writers’ Program classroom where the instructors are sensitive to the needs of emerging writers.”
Harry Youtt: “Negative comments and criticism, even thoughtless responses, often raise nasty welts and bruises that can silence a new writer. Students have to begin flexing their new wings in places of safety, where their creativity can gain strength, before they venture out into a world that can shut them down.”
Sandra Kobrin: “The best way to overcome fears is to keep writing. The more you write, the better you get, the more you rewrite the better the piece gets and it’s important for every writer to know that EVERYONE’S first draft is never perfect.”
Kim Krizan: “It’s very important for writers to free themselves by giving themselves permission to write a piece of crap. Taking away all judgment of the value of the work will free it, but if one writes with their ‘inner critic’ banging over the process, their writing will be constrained and the work won’t be fun.”
I started to read, and somewhere between the first paragraph and the last, my voice stopped shaking. I glanced around nervously in the ensuing silence. Finally, someone spoke.
“Yeah, that totally sucked,” one of my fellow classmates said with a smile.
The room erupted in laughter and for the first time, I started to relax.
I know now that every new writer suffers from the same doubts and fears. We all question our worth and the validity of the path we’ve chosen for ourselves. It’s part of being a writer. In the safety of a classroom, surrounded by our peers, we can see that we are not alone, and that, if we let ourselves, we can truly enjoy what we do.
Kim says it best: “Writing should be fun, a kind of play, and children don’t play with the belief that their play must be ‘right.’ Neither must a writer.”
Daniel Sanchez is the Program Assistant in Creative Writing.