You may recognize the writing instructor
mentioned in this guest post. But that's not why I asked Vin to contribute a
post. At my MFA graduation, a faculty mentor said he enjoyed working with me as
a student, and looked forward to the future, when we'd be colleagues. I'm beginning to understand what he meant. I asked Vin
to write a post because he exemplifies many of the behaviors that keep would-be
writers from writing, as well as the actions that move writers from one level
to the next, the steps and leaps necessary to go from secret writer to writer
whose work is published.
In his other professional life, Vincent J.
Fitzgerald MSW, LSW, is a psychotherapist with the Nutley (NJ) Family Service
Bureau. In addition to the pieces he mentions in his post, he has work
forthcoming in Longridge Review
and Missing Slate. He's a father of two, and is soon to be married.
Please welcome Vincent J. Fitzgerald.
I first aspired to write when I was 17
years old. At age 44, I still aspired, and employed all known excuses for not
writing: I have nothing to say. I have no
voice. Print is dead!
The real barriers were poverty of drive
and of confidence. From the moment I first put on a baseball mitt in Little League,
I was paralyzed by fear of failure. I often asked out of lineups, exiled myself
to right field, the Siberia of Little League, and never swung my bat. The same
fears have dogged me through life the way Javert hounds Valjean. In my
adolescence, I watched horror movies and blasted Metallica as a soundtrack to
defiance while my youngest brother filled marble tablets with tales of dragons
and sorcerers. I sidestepped failure at passion’s expense, until I allowed my
little brother to inspire me.
In my 20s and 30s, I journaled in spurts; which is to say I whined in
ink about unrequited love. I lacked the ego structure to tolerate solitude, and
when I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder, my therapist helped me pinpoint the
malevolent mental free radicals.
Today, I write this as both client and therapist. Anxiety is the flu of
the mental health world. The symptoms suck, but hope lives through treatment
and insight. When I was 43, a layoff further frazzled me to the extent I sought
therapy myself, and introduced the idea of writing as a therapy topic. My
therapist responded with a fleeting suggestion I give it a shot. Six sessions
of redundancy forced her to diagnose me with “Ass-not-in-chair syndrome.” (No
such diagnosis exists in the DSM.)
“Writing is that thing you always talk about doing, but never do," she said. "Get your ass in a chair and write. It doesn’t matter what
I empower the clients I see as a psychotherapist toward
self-actualization, often parenting them. My therapist parented me and made
failure a safe place, hence opening a door. The only danger was relegating me
to cursory journaling. I contemplated memoir to build on my undergraduate experience
as an English major, when my classes were enriching, but I was bogged down by
doubt and fretted about my inability to turn phrases like my classmates.
is stubborn, and my need for reassurance mandated I search for writing classes.
Even if I had talent, it was no doubt raw and undeveloped, and I needed to have
whatever skill I possessed sharpened by someone willing to shove me out of my
comfort zone the same way my therapist did.
I live in Jersey City, home to its own art
district, an established writers group, and a PATH train ride from New York
City, yet I looked to the ‘burbs for a less overwhelming small town feel
conducive to keeping my nerves soothed. I also wanted to go to a place where
nobody knew my name. When I discovered The Writers Circle in nearby
Summit, I registered prior to reading anything about the program. I sensed most
of my initial writing would be a purge of painful memories and exploration into
the roots of anxiety. There was much I needed to get out of my system, and I
was aware from my own therapeutic practice that divulgence is the difference
between sadness and depression.
The interior of the Mondo
building where the class was (is still) held, is embellished with art and album
covers. The immersion in creativity made me feel at home, but when confronted
with classmates with whom that home would be shared, I almost absconded. Then my
instructor walked in, and I was pulled to my chair. While gravitas poured from
her professorial appearance, she established a quick pace, stuffed with ideas,
examples and advice about craft. I couldn't help but jump in. She was tough but
honest, and I decided, perhaps unfairly, that I would continue my pursuit if
she spotted any talent, and quit if she did not. I am writing this blog post
because the former happened.
Immersed in that no nonsense approach, and without being blandished into
taking subsequent classes, I wrote and wrote, but still struggled. I welcomed
assignments as a catalyst for ideas shelved for the future. Workshopping my
assignments was far less threatening than I had imagined. Anxiety bullies us
into believing things are worse than they are. I embraced the community of
writers whose platitudes were indulging, but whose criticisms reminded me they
were invested. I remember it in every group therapy session I conduct. Life is
not always about content. Process has its place.
My instructor sometimes veered to
cranky, but I love and need her, as children need and desire structure. I defy
any reader to find the word that in
my work, and I learned adverbs are anathema as strong verbs are writing’s
lifeblood. A few weeks in I asked if I was wasting my time. She responded in
writing I was not. The exclamation point at the end of her answer drove the
point home. Writers don’t just throw exclamation points around.
Buoyed by The Writers Circle, I decided to take some risks. A blog noticed
my tweets about horror films, and the editor encouraged me to submit a piece.
When my essay, "How the Exorcist Possessed Me" was published,
I shared the link on Twitter, and Exorcist
director William Friedkin offered a favorable comment -- priceless
validation from an artist I admire. Soon after, I was encouraged to submit to The Writer’s Circle Journal and "From Video
Games to Baby Names" was accepted
after a competitive submission process.
there, I answered a call for submissions to an essay anthology, Dads Behaving
Dadly 2. When I submitted my first piece, the editor’s
response was positive, and he requested a second. Seeing my effort in a book convinced
me: print was alive, and I am a writer. I even reached out to a nearby bookstore that offers a local
author consignment program. I can’t explain the feeling of seeing my own
writing on a bookstore shelf.
No endeavor humbles me like the
writing process. The blend of joy and frustration is inherent, but ensures I
write daily, wherever, whenever. Editors never let me get too comfortable, and my
mentors remind me they too experience rejection. I revel not in their occasional
struggle, but in the resolve shown by writers much further along in their
careers than I am. Failure is both a safe place, and a breeding ground for
Before my first pieces were
published, even before I found that first writing class, I got ahead of myself
and submitted to Hippocampus, the selective,
online creative nonfiction journal. After an extensive period of waiting, my
piece was rejected for publication. The editors at were not as impressed
with me as I was, and my respect for craft shot skyward. Writing scoffs at
rejection was a watershed moment. I was in the game, and embraced my struggling
writer status. Being a struggling writer was more invigorating than being a never writer. Now, I adopt each new rejection
as a growth opportunity, yet I always remember my first. It motivated me to
persist, and taught me success can live in failure. Without it, I would not have
received the honor of guest blogging for a former instructor turned friend and
mentor whose guidance has helped me turn writing into that thing I do.