Jun 06 2016

“Small Steps: A Cheesy Yet Appropriate Title.” by Jessica Cho

I could sum up the message of my blog in one sentence, but it wouldn’t make sense. So, we’ll start with the “My Formative Childhood Years” introduction:

I was born in Texas, then moved to Saudi Arabia, then to Louisiana, then I went to boarding school in Massachusetts, then my parents moved to Kuwait, then I went to college in Texas, then onto Missouri, then back to Texas. I learned very young that the thing that kept me most rooted and calm was to read. A lot. Along the way, I started writing my own stories, and coming up with new ones every few days, just churning them out.

I mention this because I went back to my parents’ house and reread some of them in an old journal covered in psychedelic cartoon ponies. The stories were all terrible – melodramatic, poorly written, cheesy – but I loved that everything was written with confidence, hardly any scratched out sentences or second thoughts printed in the margins.

In the fantasy I’ve constructed about myself, I like to think I realized, even as a kid, that idea was always present in most things I wrote, premises that had potential to become something greater. In reality, child-me didn’t have the ability to execute those ideas well, didn’t know enough to know that, and developed a rock-solid confidence about all things writing related.

That confidence took me to the University of Missouri in St. Louis for an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, and that same confidence finally took a fatal blow when I finally acknowledged to myself that I was the worst writer in my class. My peers crafted beautiful sentences describing dysfunctional families in the Mid-West while I wrote straight forward descriptions of the logistics needed for an astronaut to take down an alien (this is not actually true; the things I wrote are either so weird or uninteresting that it’d be embarrassing to include them in this blog where I’m supposed to sound interesting).  I spent one year trying to be a different kind of writer – the literary sort that wears jackets with elbow patches and speaks with a cigarette-smoke growl—then gave that up and committed to being the space nerd that I am.

Those two years at UMSL were a gift. Confidence in my writing skills gone, I had two options: quit or get better. I couldn’t quit as a matter of pride: I’d spent a year and a half convincing my parents that getting a Master’s in writing could be more fulfilling than going to law school. My sense of story, structure, and character improved enough that I was accepted into the M.F.A. Screenwriting program at UT Austin where I proceeded to fall saliva-drooling-in-love with screenwriting. It took eighteen years of writing classes, writing time, and writing energy to finally find the right medium. I think that this chunk of time is the reason why I now share the privilege (with other, more talented writers) of writing a blog about being a Fellowship Recipient for one of the Big Six.

Boiling down this long ramble into one sentence, like I wanted to in the beginning: To me, writing is a series of small steps up an infinite staircase, and while a writer can never reach the door at the top, one can hope to get close enough to graze the door knob.