When I first decided to start teaching classes independently, I had a long phone conference with my teaching mentor, Sarah Selecky. She told me that in her more than 10 years of teaching independently, the one thing she’s found over and over again is that despite weeks of promoting the class, everyone signs up at the last second. She joked: “I’d promote for weeks and no one signed up. Then I would put out a message saying ‘last day’ and people will say, ‘Oh my God, it’s a sign!'”
I laughed and then stopped. “Wait–I think I’ve done that.”
When you’re just starting to take writing seriously–and even if you’ve been taking it seriously for a while–you look for signs. Signs that you aren’t wasting your time and sometimes money on a ‘hobby’ when you could be more ‘productive’. Signs that you are good at this and that all this work will result in some tangible success. Signs that give you legitimacy.
It’s silly and irrational to look for signs, except that it isn’t.
A few years ago, after half-assedly trying to write regularly with the assistance of a couple of classes and a small writing group, I decided I needed to make a serious investment in writing. For me, that looked like an MFA. I was also recovering from a bad break-up, so taking writing seriously was a return to focusing on what was important to me.
I took a class with Sarah, and brought my work to my writing group, and worked on my portfolio on and off over the months, and submitted my application.
I was rejected.
I’d been rejected from literary magazines many times already, so I was surprised by how much this rejection devastated me. Perhaps it was because the MFA was a major component of my post-break-up fantasy, the one where your life instantly becomes fabulous and successful. Or perhaps because this time, I was taking writing seriously. I wasn’t just fiddling with words. I was working on something.
The rejection email reminded me that I could apply again, that it’s a competitive program, that taste is subjective, that rejection is part of a writer’s life, that many students are rejected 3 or 4 times before they get in. I told myself these things, but still couldn’t muster up the energy to begin again. I’m too busy anyway, I thought. My life is too chaotic.
Privately, I began to think to myself, maybe this is not my path. I told no one, lest they try to encourage me. What could they tell me that wasn’t in that email? Perhaps this was a sign.
I knew I should get busy with the next portfolio, write new work, revise it, revise it, and revise it again. But instead I let months slip pass. I’d applied in September, been rejected in December, and spent January, February and March not writing. I was busy. And what was the point?
In April, I took a look at Sarah’s website. She was offering a spring writing class in her living room. It was the last day to sign up. Sarah’s classes filled up quickly, I knew. She had wait-lists at times. But I sent her an email, asking if there was still room in the class. I’m just curious, I thought.
She replied: “Good news! The class was full but someone just dropped out today.”
It was a sign.
PS: Registration for my online workshop closes June 30th.