The other day I had the opportunity to return to Western Washington University. This is my alma mater, and while it is just up the hill from my office, I rarely return to the brick-laid campus where I spent so much time. I have been back a few times for some sporting events, but other than that, I guess I just haven’t had a reason to go.
What finally gave me a reason to return was to speak to an environmental journalism class about being a freelance writer, specifically about my outdoor recreation writing. My previous Tennant and now friend, Derek Moscato, is the professor. He had seen some of the articles I shared on LinkedIn. I was flattered when he originally complimented me on some of my pieces and blown away when he asked me to come speak to his class. I took exactly one journalism class in college, and it went ok at best. I was basically told that I embellished my writing too much to be in journalism and to give creative writing a try. I took them up on that by taking exactly one creative writing class. I’d like to say that it went exceptionally, but I didn’t really blow that professor away either. With my lifelong struggles with reading and writing, if you had told the twenty-something me that I would be speaking to a class of college writers, I would not have believed you.
Excited that I would once again be on Western’s campus, I went up early and parked in the southernmost lot so that I could walk the entire campus. First, I went by the rec center where I spent so much time playing basketball. Next, I passed a building that had been added since I left and walked up the steps by the environmental science building where I would be talking to the class. As I strolled by, I remembered reading East of Eden in the back of my physics class there. The flanking building was where I took a biology class. As I meandered past Western’s many sculptures, familiar buildings presented themselves, bringing back a rush of memories from all the classes I took. Entering Red Square, the epicenter of campus, I saw Bond Hall, where I spent so much time taking history classes. Finally, I made my way to the steps of Old Main before heading back to meet Derek.
After Derek introduced me to the class, I spoke for a bit and then took questions feeling underqualified for either piece. I feel as though I became a writer by chance, and even though I have been doing so for three years now, it still seems like it’s something that could go away at any moment. That people will suddenly realize I’m that kid that barely made it through high school English class, and I will stop getting my pitches approved.
While rambling in front of the class about what I had been doing and how I got into it wasn’t hard, some of their questions gave me pause. The ones about my process were the most challenging because, until that moment, I didn’t realize I had a process. I ended up talking about many topics that I hope were helpful. The message I wanted to get through was to just go for it. I have no doubt that each student in that class has the ability to write a great article. The writing will not be the challenging part. The challenge will be putting themselves out there. Opening themselves up to the risk of a “no,” or an unpublished piece. Being ok with some bumps in the road before getting the satisfaction of seeing their writing in print. I shared stories of rejection in my writing journey, so they knew it was part of the process. So, to any of the students I spoke with or anyone thinking about putting themselves out there, go for it and see what happens. Not doing so is far more of a risk.
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