The following essay is a personal reflection I penned at the end of my first-ever formal writing class:  Fiction I.  The experience was initially terrifying, but ultimately led to a deeper understanding of the importance of putting work out for others to read and the exhilaration of chasing down a long-squashed dream.  I hope this essay encourages others to set and follow their own writing goals, and to enjoy the process no matter the outcome.

When I enrolled in my first-ever fiction writing class, I wrote down three goals on a new yellow legal pad:  establish a writing practice, produce a completed work of some kind, and get my feet wet in the world of writing.  If I’m being completely honest, my real goal was unwritten and a lot less notebook-worthy:  simply to finish the class.  To my surprise, I finished the class, met my goals, and learned a lot about both the mechanics of fiction writing and myself as a “real” writer.  As a result of the class, and in particular the writing habit I developed as part of its completion, I have learned that it’s okay to be a beginner, that there is no rush, and that this writing adventure comes with some risk.

I applied to the entire MAPW program late, signed up for the class last minute, and even showed up that first Tuesday evening thinking I would probably end up dropping out midway through the semester.  Somehow, though, I kept showing up.  When I learned in that first class about the requirement of presenting my writing to the entire class for workshopping, the volume of my doubts turned up even louder.  The usual chatter was rattling around in my brain: you don’t have to do this, starting this during your current career is pointless, you don’t have time for frivolous writing, you have no ideas/talent/time, etc.  All the usual suspects of negativity, doubt, and anxiety masquerading as practicality made an appearance, but again and to my own surprise, I kept showing up.

I was scheduled in the last of the four editorial groups to present, so I committed to begin writing a manuscript and attending the other students’ workshops but decided that if I couldn’t finish the story or it was just too embarrassingly bad to present by the time my submission was due, I would simply have to drop out of the class.  As the weeks and writing rolled on, something changed.  Instead of dangling my tippy toes in the edge of the water, I nudged myself further and further from the shore.  Each time I sat at my computer and labored over the writing, even when it was just a few sentences, I felt an exhilaration like cold water lapping up to my knees, waist, chest.  By the time the class workshopped my first manuscript, I was not only treading in the deeper water but decided I was willing to be pushed off the diving board.  Turns out that the cure for my professional exhaustion as a lawyer is not better time management or more vacation days.

The first, and probably most important lesson I learned as a writer new to fiction is that it’s okay to be a beginner.  Maybe it’s because I’m expected to be an expert in my legal career or maybe it’s just my own perfectionist tendencies, but I generally avoid that uncomfortable place of being a newbie.  Of being exposed.  Of knowing less or being less.  As I submitted my first manuscript, which was also my first-ever fiction work that was written all the way to an actual end, there was something really freeing about putting it out into the universe – even if that universe was just fourteen other students and one professor.  Even if the story was less than I envisioned.  Even if the words didn’t match my thoughts.  Even if I made rookie mistakes.  I quickly learned that thinking about writing a story is not the same as actually writing it, and I forced myself to put pen to paper as a habit instead of just on an occasional whim.  Thankfully, my peers were gracious in their comments and gentle in their critiques, but releasing the usual expectation of perfection, or at least near-perfection, that colors most other areas of my life was exhilarating.  While this lesson that being a beginner is okay or even a good thing may be obvious or easy to some, I have found it to be both a challenge and an exciting opportunity as a midlife, mid-career, semi-stifled lawyer.  It’s been a chance to dive headlong into a new and deep area of creativity.

The second, and probably most difficult lesson I have learned throughout my first foray into fiction, is that there is no rush with the writing.  Or maybe more accurately, that there can be no rush.  In my non-writing life, efficiency and even urgency dominate.  Court deadlines, statutes of limitations, client expectations, sales goals, payroll taxes – all of it adds up to moving at what is often an overwhelming pace.  Getting work out accurately and quickly is a top priority, and the to-do list is long and ever-growing.  It’s a marathon-length sprint.  But the fiction writing has been a walk – sometimes an arduous climb, but sometimes a saunter under a canopy of trees.  I’ve learned that I am incredibly slow at writing fiction and no amount of hurrying or pre-planning has been able to change that.  Maybe as I advance I will be able to move along at a steadier clip, but maybe not.  This adventure has taught me to accept a slower pace from myself and to allow story ideas and newly acquired writing techniques to compost in my mind instead of forcing them into use.  Despite my repeated attempts to outline my writing, each fictional story I have worked on has come slowly and with elements and twists that I didn’t anticipate.  Rather, they just showed up on the paper revealing themselves during the process.  In particular, the first manuscript I completed was, in my mind, centered around an entirely different theme than what ended up coming out during the draft.  I was only able to complete these thoughts and see the real meaning of the story bit by bit over an extended period.

A third lesson I have learned through my first class is that the writing adventure comes with some risk.  First, there is the risk of change but equally as terrifying, the risk of not changing.  As a specialist in immigration law, my job is heavily flavored by the political climate of the nation and the last few years have been the most difficult of my career as the topic of immigration has become a political pawn for all sides.  My law practice has grown, but so has my disillusionment with the entire system – exponentially under certain administrations.  Sometime during this havoc, a little whisper began inside my mind telling me that there could be another way.  I have harbored the fragile hope of a career change as a secret hidden in the garden of my thoughts, a baby seed just starting to push its way through the dirt.  I have allowed myself to consider the seedling only in my peripheral vision.  I’ve fenced in the little sprout, not telling anyone about its tiny existence.  Writing and presenting the writing in a public way has watered that delicate sprout and I both hope and fear that its buds may outgrow the barriers I have erected.

The risk is that this hope cannot or will not come to any fruition, and that this mental escape hatch will turn out as only a dead end.  There is the obvious risk that others will not like my work or that the belief of having the ability to write well is all a pitiful self-delusion, but it is the risk of losing this secret passage to a new beginning that has been the toughest to assume.  Taking my first professional writing class has been an acknowledgement of the possibility of change, or maybe, the loss of that possibility depending on what I discover.  I didn’t begin the class with this realization, but I’ve come to understand it as the weeks have passed and I found myself more invested in the writing than I initially anticipated.  So, I am ending the class with a deeper and fuller awareness of this hope of change.  The class has helped me to develop a more consistent writing practice and a fondness for fiction writing I haven’t previously experienced.  But with that increased fondness has come this deeper risk – that I won’t be able to continue on as before, mostly ignoring the possibility of change, but simultaneously the risk that I must continue on as before because a change turns out to be untenable.

I have enjoyed this first foray into fiction writing immensely and I am ending the term in what feels like the deep end of the pool.  It’s been exciting to soak up all the technical knowledge about plot, characterization, and dialogue.  I now read and even watch movies with a more critical lens as I have learned about these elements of storytelling, and my hope is to eventually know them so well through practice that they become a natural reflex.  But the most profound lessons are the personal ones just described.  I end the class with what feels like the solid start of this new beginning and look forward to continuing my fiction writing – maybe even cannonballing into these unknown waters.