This week we’re talking about the roads not taken. I’ve already talked a bit about some of the career paths I might’ve walked down (You can read more of that here.), so I thought I might talk a little bit about the fork in the road that I faced with my writing.
Long ago, in a faraway land, I looked at one of my most trusted writing professors (Michael Knight. Buy his books.) and told him that I wanted to get an MFA in Creative Writing. He told me that if I thought I might be interested in doing anything else, I should that other thing. (This was really good advice.) He also told me that if I had to pay for my MFA, I should find something else to do, whether I was interested or not. (This was better advice.)
Once we’d sorted all that out, I asked him whether he thought I should apply to grad school as a poet or a fiction writer. See, for my whole college career, I’d taken both a poetry workshop and a fiction workshop nearly every semester. I loved the precision and weirdness of poetry, but fiction sang a siren song that I couldn’t tear myself away from. Michael, in his great wisdom, told me that he couldn’t decide something as important as what I ought to write for me, and kindly ushered me out of his office.
Ultimately, after taking a long hard look at my work, I decided that my poetry was stronger, and thus, my fate was sealed. Or so I thought. I wrote weird, dark poems for the next three years, and, in the single fiction workshop I took, I was told that my characters were robotic and unrelatable, making me sure that I’d chosen wisely when I picked poetry. But, by the time I defended my thesis, I was so, so sick of it.
I was tired of examining and wallowing in my own feelings, tired of holding onto the reins of my storytelling so tightly, tired of constraint. So when my thesis committee asked me what I thought I might do next, the truth just sort of popped out of me.
“I think I might write a children’s novel.”
I’ve never seen a more confused group of humans in a classroom. Not long after, my husband and I moved to South Korea, and I decided to give myself space. Space to read whatever I wanted, space to stop writing, space to breathe. I dove back into the books I loved as a child. I started reading YA, with a voracious appetite. It made me so, so happy. And when I finally got the itch to write again, it wasn’t poetry, but a strange little short storythat turned into a novel.
And I’ve never had more fun writing than I do when I’m writing a novel. I just finished my fourth, and I cannot wait to start working on number five. It took a long, strange road to get here, but I’m so glad I walked this path. Poetry gave me a lot. It helped me learn to play with language, to trust my readers, and to tell exactly the story I want to tell. But fiction? Fiction is my home.
Here are some of the other voices in my head, the people who helped me find my voice. John Bensko, a brilliant poet and incredible teacher. Cary Holladay, whose novel MERCURY is one of my all-time favorites. Marilyn Kallet, who helped me learn to weave my dreams into stories.
Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
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