During the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided it was time for a change. After leaving my account executive/SEO copywriter role at a small marketing agency, I enrolled in an intensive data science Bootcamp. Spending 40-60 hours a week learning how to code in Python and SQL was daunting, to say the least, but it was thrilling all the same. However, I found that I missed working more creatively. You see, I did a lot of writing at my marketing job and even though it wasn’t what I studied in college, I enjoyed it. Writing came naturally to me since I was a kid and although I didn’t want to be a full-time writer, I knew that this was something I couldn’t just throw away.
Throughout the quarantine, I became lonely. I was living by myself in a small basement apartment and my partner was working crazy hours at the national lab. So, one night I signed up for a Meetup group. Now to be truthful, I had signed up for a bunch of Meetups that I vowed to attend in the hopes of socializing a bit, but every time I chickened out, whether it was the day before the scheduled event or five minutes prior to the start time.
But this night was different. I was browsing the Meetup groups between coding exercises and my capstone project when I came across the name Writing Under the Influence.
I’m not going to lie, I found the title intriguing. After reading more, I discovered that it was a group that met every Tuesday night to write together (with or without a drink). The thing that appealed to me was that most of the events would entail silent writing. According to the description, we’d all join the Zoom meeting and talk for 10 minutes before setting a timer for a “writing sprint”, during which we all muted ourselves and turned off our cameras while we worked on any writing project we wanted.
I sat through that first meeting silently with my camera off, but to my surprise, the group spent a decent amount of time talking. We set a 20-minute timer for our writing sprints, but then between sessions, we would talk. About anything…
We didn’t have to share what we wrote, but we were all welcome to bounce ideas around, ask for advice, and just chat with like-minded creatives.
After hearing some of these writers talk about their work–books, poetry, essays, etc– I was hooked. I made a goal to write a short story and submit it to a journal. Inspired by true events, my story was aptly titled, Professional Student.
I wrote about a young woman who graduated college and continued her studies after graduate school. She was hired as a “Professional Student” for the government and she was tasked with taking classes all over the country to gather knowledge for the Department of Learning.
It wasn’t my best idea, but it was fun to write. Next Tuesday night at my writing group (WUTI) I completed a draft of the story, but when I wrote the last sentence, it didn’t feel finished.
I finally got enough courage to share some of my ideas in the writing Meetup and I received some pretty nice feedback. Everyone was encouraging and suggested that I revisit the piece if I want to add more.
The next week I was talking to one of my best friends about the nagging feeling I had that Professional Student just wasn’t finished and her words will always stick with me.
“What if there’s more to being a professional student than taking classes?”
I pondered this and then spent the next couple of days asking myself variations of this question:
What if the main character is trapped?
What if the government isn’t really the government?
I didn’t have the answers to these questions, but what I learned was that if I kept asking myself what if… my story would continue.
And so I spent the next month writing a 50,000-word novel(la) titled Professional Student. The cool thing is, I started working on it and finished the final piece during my Tuesday night WUTI group.
Fast forward to today–I’ve self-published Professional Student and now I run the online WUTI group. I look forward to Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm when I get to talk to my core group of writing friends. Sometimes I don’t even write, but I always get ideas. I chalk it up to the power of connection. That’s my creative process.