This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is debut author Jenny Torres Sanchez revealing hers…
Guest post by Jenny Torres Sanchez
For some reason I thought the only way I would ever become a legitimate writer was by getting an MFA in creative writing. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to get grouped with the many people out there who say they are writers but never write, or write once a year. Just so you know, that’s exactly what I was. But that’s not what I wanted to be. So really, I was looking for a way out of that—something that would force me to become more disciplined and better. I whipped together a portfolio and applied.
I was promptly rejected.
It’s not that I thought I would definitely get into the program, but . . . I kind of thought I would get into the program. Okay, so I understand why now, but at the time all I could think was, But what about the time I won first place in the fourth-grade creative writing contest? Didn’t that mean something? And what about my first-place win in an eleventh-grade essay contest? Shouldn’t that have somehow secured my admittance to any writing program of my choice? Yeah, I know.
Anyway, I read and reread the letter that assured me my writing had “promise” but I would not be admitted into the program at this time. I stuffed the letter somewhere I wouldn’t see it, licked my wounds, and waited for the next application deadline, at which point I applied again. And with a portfolio that was only slightly different than the first one I’d submitted.
I was rejected again.
I was advised to take an upper-level undergrad creative writing class, so I did. And aced it. And applied again.
And was rejected . . . again.
I stared at that word—promise—again. How in the world was I supposed to tap into this elusive promise if they wouldn’t show me?
I reapplied once or twice more, but quite honestly, I actually lost count. That’s when I said (numerous expletives) to the (numerous expletives) program, followed by some unkind gestures and gave up. I stopped writing. Eventually my family and friends stopped asking, “Hey, didn’t you apply to that MFA program?” and stopped giving me the pitiful oh look accompanied with the “Well . . .”
I let myself wallow in self-pity. Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Deferred” ran through my mind repeatedly. His lines of a dying dream, of the danger of an unfulfilled dream, left me unsettled, but I convinced myself that I did all I could. I figured some dreams are meant to be deferred and die.
It was then that my normally mild-mannered 18-month-old son started having incredible meltdowns. He wouldn’t play with other kids and would scream if we tried to hug or touch him. It was then that he started having severe night terrors and would only be able to soothe himself by tucking himself under mounds of clothes and pillows and blankets, shrieking if I came near him. It was then he started banging his head on his crib, on the floor, on the walls . . .
And we started going to doctors and specialists. He had to have sleep studies, allergy testing, neurological tests, etc. Nobody wanted to diagnose him as autistic because he didn’t quite fit all the criteria, but his behavior was very autistic-like. Finally, he was diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder, speech and language delays, and various food allergies.
I stopped teaching so I could take him to his occupational and speech therapies. Our home, our lives, became one huge therapy session. And despite the stress, or most likely because of it, I found myself returning to writing.
Because the thing is, dreams like this don’t really die. And as much as I wanted to give it up, I couldn’t. What I did learn from all those rejections was that I had to do something different and it started by finally accepting the truth. I hadn’t really tried. And in some sense, I have to say, I don’t think I knew any better at the time. I didn’t know that to become better, to tap into that promise, you had to write and write and write. All the time. And constantly go back and change and rework and revise. I’d basically been submitting a bunch of horrible first drafts.
So, I started taking some online writing courses. I read and reread Stephen King’s On Writing. I read other books on writing. I started reading fiction as a writer, studying what writers do, how stories unfold. I thought, I’ll figure this out. I’ll teach myself. I’ll learn all I can. And write as much as possible.
At three years old, my son started school. Not kindergarten, but a pre-K program for children with special needs that he attended five days a week for two and a half hours a day. I worried about his meltdowns, if they would understand him the way I did. He was three and still couldn’t talk. But I had to leave him there for his own good. Two and a half hours seemed so long. For two and a half hours I had to do something that took my mind off of him, that wouldn’t let me sit in the parking lot just waiting for the time to pass.
After a couple of parking-lot sessions, I decided to make that time my writing time. Every day, I’d drop off my son and then head to the coffee shop down the street and just write.
I missed teaching my high schoolers, and after some false starts, a story started to form about a teen named Charlie who’d been dealt an unfair hand in life. Each day it became more and more, and I actually thought about applying to that program again. But it somehow didn’t seem as important anymore. And it no longer felt like it was the only way to become a writer. Besides I’d learned some stuff, I could tell. Yes, some of what I was writing was bad, but I could see it was bad now. And some was good. I could see that, too. So I kept writing. And I thought, This could be something. And it was: my first novel.
Looking back, I guess there were many turning points for me. If I hadn’t been rejected, rejected, and rejected some more, or gone through those hard times with my son (who is doing really well now), or had those two and a half hours each day, I know things would not have worked out the way they did. I know this story never would have been written.
Before writing her debut novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she’s ever met. She’s grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny also writes short stories—many of which rooted in her Hispanic culture. She currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children. Visit her website at jennytorressanchez.com.
GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…
Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* finished copy of Jenny Torres Sanchez’s debut YA novel The Downside of Being Charlie! The winner is…
Congrats, Gea! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize!