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That Red Letter Day

Very rarely do we experience pivotal moments and know right away how life-changing that moment can be—unless it’s tied to the big things like birth, marriage, and death. However, for me, the pivotal moment that fused my future to writing is quite clear: the day I defended my MFA thesis in grad school.

Here’s why: I was planning to throw it all away.

There are a lot of factors that contributed to that decision, but the underlying reason was that I thought I had other opportunities that conflicted with my writing. More importantly, I didn’t think I had much talent as a writer, and the workshops that year had been particularly brutal. My professors knew of my plans to give it all up. And I remember walking down the hallway toward the office where my defense would take place, thinking that I didn’t care what they had to say about my thesis. They could tear it apart. They could nitpick it. It didn’t matter because I was done.

To be honest, they really could have nitpicked my thesis, which was a collection of short stories that I’d focused on for the last two years. They really could have torn it apart. I was still in my infancy as a writer, and I had a lot to learn. But they didn’t. Instead, they spent the time convincing me to keep writing.

I was floored. I was overwhelmed. They did not tell me I was amazing. They told me that they were impressed with how much I had grown, which was apparently atypical. But it was enough to completely shift my worldview. I entered that office convinced I was done. I exited with the decision that I would keep writing until I died.

As I said, it was pivotal. But if that were the only day when I committed to writing, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Writing is hard no matter what level you’re at. Even when I’m in the zone, there’s a euphoria at what I’m producing combined with anxiety that I won’t be able to sustain the writing. What I’ve come to realize is that the decision to write or be a writer isn’t one made once. It is a decision you make over and over again as life and the world throw themselves between you and the page. There have been other equally pivotal people and events that have kept me on this journey, but none of them can be distilled so clearly to a single day, a single hour.

That moment when my whole life changed.

Photo of author, friends, and Dr. Tom Massey, a member of her MFA committee.

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