The professor is in

"But this too is true: stories can save us."

-Tim O'Brien

I was 21 the first time I submitted my writing in a creative writing class. It was the first time I had let anyone besides my best friend read my work at all. My hands trembled and my stomach curled as I passed out stapled copies of my story to 12 classmates and my teacher, all seated around a long table. Everyone would discuss my submission the next time class met, but I didn’t know if I could handle the anticipation. Thoughts of withdrawing or never coming back crossed my mind more than once.

 

Outside of class I waited tables, heading straight to the restaurant from campus, my dirty apron shoved in the backseat. I took classes part-time at the community classes and even though I had wanted to be a writer since I was 7, I just knew I wasn’t smart or talented enough. I hadn’t submitted to the literary magazine in high school because I just knew I wasn’t as artistic and deep as the poets and AP students. My fear held me back then and kept holding me back until that day I shared my first short story.

 

As classmates discussed my writing, I focused on taking notes so that I wouldn’t have to make contact. My anxiety was so high that I didn’t fully hear what anyone said. I’m not a writer, I told myself. How did I ever convince myself I belonged here?

 

After class, my teacher asked me to stick around. Though I had to get to work, had to work another double shift to pay rent, I waited in the classroom until everyone else left.

 

“You have something here,” she said. “You are a talented writer. What’s your plan?”

 

She filled the margins of my pages with, and though she never said it was ready to be published (spoiler: it was not ready), that teacher, someone I still talk to years later, gave me the gift I didn’t know I needed. She called me a writer. More importantly, she pushed me to keep going. Later, she helped me transfer to a four-year college and she helped me submit my first submissions to literary magazines. She wrote my recommendations to graduate school. 

 

She told me to keep going and I haven’t stopped ever since that moment. All I needed, despite my fear and insecurity, was a push. I needed one person to tell me that if I wanted it, I should go for it.

 

That’s the gift I love to give my own writing students now. And every time I work with new writers, looking at their query letters and novel excerpts, I let myself fall in love with the project and see all the gold hiding under the surface. I know there at least a dozen emotions connected to those pages. Nurturing those emotions is often my favorite part. 

 

Keep going, writer friends. You have something here.

Writing at Medium: https://medium.com/@pennyzang

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I graduated from Notre Dame of Maryland University with a B.A in English and West Virginia University with my M.F.A in Creative Writing (Fiction). My work has appeared in publications such as the Potomac Review, Pank, Iron Horse Literary Review, Baltimore City Paper, and New Ohio Review. When I'm not writing or spending too much time on Twitter, I am with my husband, son, and girlfriends.

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