9 Years ago, I had a professor in undergrad. He taught fiction workshop classes. I had him as a professor for 3 straight years.
And in those 3 years, I realized I enjoyed writing fictionalized short stories about events that happened to me.
Mostly about 20 something year olds. Mostly messy stories about being drunk, having dreadlocks, trying drugs, being heart broken, and vomiting. (A lot of vomiting actually.)
And needless to say, I looked up to my professor.
He taught fiction workshops and film theory. He had short stories published.
He was doing what I wanted to do.
My senior year, I took an independent study with him.
In this class, he’d help me become a strong writer by developing the skills I had built over the last 3 years from taking his workshop classes.
It’s 6 weeks in to my one-on-one class, and he sits me down and says, “Gina… You have to stop writing weird stories.”
“Sorry… what?” I said.
“You have to stop writing such weird stories,” he reiterates. “And definitely stop having people puke in your stories. It’s gross. Nobody wants to read that.”
I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never been able to remember my response, which I’m pretty sure meant I was too sad and afraid to answer.
I do remember that I went to my apartment and cried.
Here was a skill I had worked on for the last 3 years, really felt I had improved and worked hard to make it strong.
Here was someone I looked up to, telling me that skill wasn’t good enough.
In fact, it wasn’t anything. I should stop doing it as far as he was concerned.
Here was, quite literally, my worst fear being verbalized by someone I respected an incredible amount.
So, I woke up the next morning, and I wrote a weird story about someone being told they couldn’t do what they loved, and the person being told’s initial reaction was to puke.
I couldn’t stop writing weird. I wouldn’t.
I said to myself, “I write weird stories. That’s just who I am.”
Fast forward 1 year later. I’ve graduated from college and realized I want to apply for MFA programs to further my creative writing studies.
I contact that undergraduate professor that I had for 3 straight years, because who would know me better to write a letter of recommendation.
I call him up, tell him I’m going to apply for an MFA in creative writing, which schools I’m applying to, and ask if he’ll write me a letter of recommendation.
“Well, the first thing you should know is it might take you 2-3 years to get into a school,” he said.
“And second, I would pick some smaller, newer schools. Schools that are anxious to have students.”
“I thought I did pick smaller schools,” I said.
“They’re small in class size, but they’re well established. I’d pick ones that are pretty new, so you have a better chance.”
He sent me his letters of recommendation and I end up not applying to one of the schools I had asked for, so I read his letter.
It was a half of a page, and didn’t note anything about my performance or ability.
Here I was, 1 year later, having all of my worst fears verbalized to me again, and by the same person I looked up to.
So what happened with my grad school applications?
I never changed my list of schools. In fact I only applied to 3.
I used vomiting in my application, to ensure the school would be a good fit. (Really, here was the line: My writing, as of the past year, is a nature-filled, body conscious, sound driven ouroboros, and I believe an MFA is the agent which will allow me to vomit out the tail.)
The other people who wrote me letters of recommendation wrote glowing, full page reviews of me. One of them even wrote a two page recommendation.
I was accepted to 2/3 of the schools.
I was able to pick the school I wanted to go to.
So why am I sharing this story with you?
Because fear can be terrifying.
And fear becomes even more terrifying when it’s verbalized.
And fear becomes 143244732895 more times terrifying when it’s verbalized by a role model.
But, even when your worst fear is verbalized by someone you respect, you take it all in, and you move the fuck on.
In War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes: Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we're thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don't show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, does his work, he keeps on truckin', no matter what.
I’m not saying that having your worst fears verbalized isn’t the suckiest fealing in the planet.
It totally is.
But you can’t let one person's opinion stop you.
Never let it stop you.