Writing Lessons: Gerardo Mena

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In our Writing Lessons series, writing students—and this month, writing instructors!—will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying and teaching writing. This week, we hear from Gerardo Mena, an MFA student at Goddard College. You can follow him on Twitter @tonyidigmusic—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

Black and White Headshot - cropI heard her read a fiction story aloud at one of the rowdier nightly student readings during our first semester at Goddard. She had style, suspense, and a beautiful story-telling voice that wrenched the audience forward wherever they were sitting—most of them on the floor. It was time to recruit.

Me: Nice piece. Have you published much before?

Her: No. I haven’t even really thought about it. I’m not even really sure how to do it.

Me: Do you want to form a small writer’s group? I’ll walk you through publishing step-by-step. The instructors here can help you hone your work, and then we can work on sending our stuff out together, team-work style. It’s a lot more fun that way.

Her: I’m not sure. I, uh, I’m really new at this stuff. I think I’ll just work on my thesis.

A month later, out of the blue, she texted me: Okay. I’m in.

Two months and several submissions later her first piece went up in The New York Times Modern Love series. Then Salon.com. Then Brainline. She was on fire and we celebrated.

We added two more fun and talented people to the group. We celebrated.

We all submitted to a large national poetry contest together. One of us was a finalist. We celebrated.

Then came a mountain of rejections for all of us. We still celebrated.

Then came someone’s book deal. We celebrated.

Then came more rejections. We celebrated.

Then came my own New York Times piece. We celebrated.

Then more rejections for all of us… You get the picture.

During one of our celebratory outings she cornered me.

Her: You know, I’m not sure I would’ve published so quickly without your encouragement. Why’d you do it?

Me: I had a mentor that did this for me once. He told me I’d be far more successful in life if I did everything out of love. So, this is love.

So, the moral to this celebratory drinking guide, if there is one, is that a life lived in hate and competition of other writers is miserable. I know this. It’s how I started. It’s how I imagine most writers start their careers. This can lead to jealous outbursts, fitful dreams, and ulcers. You don’t want ulcers.

Mathematically, if you form a supergroup of writers, while also expanding your definition of success to “anything great that happens to anybody in the group,” then, in a group of four (like mine), you quadruple your chances of success and allowable reasons to celebrate. And who doesn’t like to celebrate?

So, I’ll end this post the same way I start my celebratory drinking: by blasting some Macklemore.

Raise those hands, this is our party.
We came here to live life like nobody was watching.
I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.
Learn from that failure, gain humility, and then we keep marching.

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