This last week I started an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Talk about the most overwhelming week I have ever experienced.  It is a low residence master’s program so students travel to campus twice a year for an intensive week of courses and then the rest of the program is online.

The program is perfect for me in so many ways, with its low residence calendar and focus on genre fiction. My mentor is the amazing, fantastic, wonderful author (oh, no, am I gushing again?) Maria V. Snyder.

So what’s with the Imposter Syndrome? Well my brother said they addressed Imposter Syndrome in his MFA program at UW. They said everyone has it, and after you realize that you can all get on with learning. Even being aware or Imposter Syndrome, I was surprised at how paralyzing it is. For the first few days I was there, I kept thinking in my typical brutally honest fashion, “What am I doing here, with all these amazing people, all these great writers. I am just a stay a home mom who couldn’t stop thinking about writing, and foolishly decided waste a whole bunch of time pursuing it.” Ouch.  I fully understand how destructive this kind of thinking is, but knowing something isn’t the same as doing it.

As a part of the residency we submit ten pages and ten other students critique our submission, and we critique other student’s submissions.  I had received the following e-mail a few days before residency from someone who read my submission, and it was the only thing that kept me from either throwing up (wow, TMI, Erica) or breaking down, sobbing.

Welcome to Seton Hill!

I’m a “5” – and I also had the pleasure of critiquing your submission. I wanted to drop you a note and let you know how much I enjoyed your piece. As a writer, editor and English teacher (and wife of a professor), I’ve read thousands of essays/stories/poems and it’s not often that I encounter a natural-born writer. I don’t know what your writing background entails, but you have a gift – a rare ability to craft lush and descriptive scenes and believable characters in a way I’ve rarely (if ever) encountered in a “one”. I can’t remember the last time I had to read through a piece several times to find anything substantial to critique!

I’m looking forward to meeting you in a few days!

I think this is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It was funny though because even after she wrote me this, I thought, “Oh no, she doesn’t know this is literally my fourteen draft of my chapter, and it is nothing like how it started.” I even heard the word “imposter” in my head as I read her words.

I learned so many things at residency that I will be blogging about in the future, but the first valuable aspect I learned was about kindness and building others instead of tearing them down. It didn’t cost this woman anything to write me these kind words, but they were very affective. With all the negative energy in this world, I want to be a source of positive strength that builds up others instead of tearing them down.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I don’t need to be coddled when it comes to people reading what I write. My piece got ripped to shreds in critique session with honest criticism and I enjoyed every minute. It was truly amazing and enlightening. Knowing what is wrong makes revisions easier and worth the work.

That being said, a little kindness goes a long way, and I am glad I didn’t throw up or cry on top of all the other embarrassing things I said and did.