This year, I was honored to be chosen as a second place winner at the Southern Literary Festival in the creative non-fiction category. The first thing I’d like to do is to thank the people who got me there. I know some people can relate directly with what I mean when I talk about looking at old writing, but everyone has something they are good at that they can see how bad they were starting out. That’s what it has been like for me, seeing how much I have improved since I first came to college, thanks to all of the wonderful professors I have had in my English and writing courses. In particular, Dr. Kerns has really helped me to hone my craft, although I am sure she still bangs her head against her desk when I turn in papers that have 40 commas in a first paragraph that rambles on for half a page.
Here’s a secret: I didn’t want to write this piece. I had an assignment in—you guessed it—one of Dr. Kerns’ classes that I REALLY did not want to do. She had to drag me through the writing process like a mule digging in its heels. But I got it done, finally, and turned it in. Then when Mountain Breeze rolled around I tossed it in the pile of things I submit every year, even though I secretly hated the piece, just because it couldn’t hurt. (And seriously, it can’t hurt. Even if you hate what you’ve written, submit it! You never know, right?)
The next thing I know, I am being told that I’ve placed second in a competition that involves students from all across the South. I was floored. I got to go to the Christian Brothers University to the festival itself and read my work to a room full of like-minded people. By like minded, I mean that they share my insanity in that they are also writers. One of my favorite quotes is from Hemingway—“There is nothing to writing. You just sit at a type writer and bleed.” It takes a special kind of crazy to keep opening that vein again and again, and it’s only understood, I think, by people who share the ailment.
That is what I loved most about the experience. I got up, read my piece in a state bordering a nervous breakdown, and then sat down in a flurry. The reading itself was nothing special. What I will treasure is the brief but infinitely impactful exchanges afterward, where someone or other told me they liked my use of phrasing here or repetition there, and I was able to give some similar small snippets of feedback to them. It seems like such a small thing, but it is what meant the most to me.
In closing, I just want to encourage other students in two things. First, whatever you are good at, whatever you are passionate about, whatever sets your soul on fire, keep at it! Keep improving, keep growing, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, because you’ll learn a lot and never regret the experience. Second, don’t forget to thank the teachers who helped you to get better. Their dedication to us and our endeavors is what makes it possible for us to accomplish things greater than we could have imagined.