I’m so excited to welcome back the amazing Katie Bockino, MFA fiction star at NYU and fellow Geneseo alum, for a guest post after her interview earlier this month. Below, Katie fills us in on her MFA experience so far – and goes deeper into the conversation we’ve been having on this blog about impostor syndrome. Take it away, Katie!
Now that I’m more than halfway through my first semester at NYU’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, I realized I have days where I love being here, and others days where I feel almost too overwhelmed to even make morning coffee.
Let me back up. I love being in New York City. However, this past summer I did have a few moments of panic thinking that NYC wouldn’t be a good fit for me. I visited Boston in July, and as usual reawakened my love for the city. I always pictured myself in Boston (as did a rather sketchy psychic I once paid $10 to), and was worried that NYC would be too big/scary/hectic for me. Thankfully, I was wrong.
For all the clichéd reasons, I love being here. I love walking a block to get Dunkin’ or iced tea. I love walking home and not having to drive. I love selling my soul to see a Broadway show, going to Washington Square Park to read, and meeting so many amazing writers.
And I want to say that I don’t have any qualms about my MFA. But that wouldn’t be quite true. The dreaded “impostor syndrome” has me by the throat.
I used to joke that NYU let me in by mistake, but sometimes I do think, “How did I get here?” Everyone else is so talented/smart/funny/great. And then there’s me.
Yet, even as I write this I want to slap the side of my head. Yes, I did get into this school. I did work hard for months upon months on my personal statement and creative writing sample. I want to be a writer. No. I am a writer.
So how have I been dealing with impostor syndrome?
- Writing Everyday: I told my (awesome) professor about this anxiety I’ve been feeling, and she told to find a journal (or buy one) that I’ve never used. Then, every morning before I make coffee, shower, or even leave my apartment, write three full pages. Write fiction, nonfiction, a stream of consciousness, poetry, anything. My pen can’t even leave the paper! Finally, once I have filled up three pages, close the journal. Don’t even look at what I just wrote. I’ve been doing this everyday for a little while now, and it’s actually helping a lot. The idea that no one, not even myself, has to read it is therapeutic. There is no pressure, no “stakes,” and I can do anything. This has definitely relaxed me.
- Meditation (Of Some Sort): While I hadn’t ever really meditated before, I have started doing daily breathing exercises and relaxation exercises. And no, I don’t mean just watching Netflix. I’ll put on some soothing music, close my eyes, and push everything away. All of my stress, worries, and anxieties fall away for just a few minutes. Afterwards, I feel like I can do anything.
- Healthy/Realistic Sleep Schedule: I’ve never, ever been good with this. However, I have been making sure I get 7-8 hours of sleep each night (even if I haven’t finished something yet), and I don’t sleep in. Of course, the weekends I allow myself a little leeway. Why does this help? Because I’m at NYU to learn about the writing life, crafting stories, great literature, magazine experience, and many more things. It’s a waste of time to just stay in bed! That isn’t learning, that isn’t writing, that isn’t healthy. Instead of “wallowing,” I force myself to get up and face the day – even if I am scared.
- Reading Different Types of Literature: A lot of the reading I have been doing is from one of my classes, but reading different types of literature is eye opening and educational. Learning different ways sentences are constructed, how different books keep the plot moving, and simply reading something by someone from another time/place is beautiful. This helps with my writing, and allows me to learn. It also gets me excited to try out other methods in storytelling!
- Talking to People: At first, I felt like I couldn’t admit that I was having doubts. I thought that since I worked so hard to get in here, I couldn’t admit that at times I was struggling. I thought, “Would that make me ungrateful?” Yet, once I realized how silly that was, I started talking to family and friends about some of my tougher days. And you know what? They got it. They understood and sympathized and shared some of their own stories. I realized it’s normal to doubt oneself. While this might sound obvious, I really do believe people worry that if they admit everything is not, “amazing” others will look at them differently. But your true family and friends will never think this, and appreciate you opening up to them. Just saying the words out loud, “This is hard,” made me feel better.
- Accepting, and Actually, Accepting Criticism: Even though I was in writing workshops at SUNY Geneseo, I wasn’t prepared for how much more pressure I feel in graduate level workshops. For many reasons, I feel more nervous and less excited for my work to be reviewed. The first two times, it was hard. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. However, during the third time (and perhaps with the help of the steps above), it wasn’t as bad. Instead of thinking, “OMG everyone hates this” I thought, “If I could write a perfect story, I wouldn’t be here. Please, help me!” That thought helped me, and I made sure I felt present while everyone discussed my story.
While I still have my doubts, everything I listed above has truly helped me become more confident! Meghan’s amazing blog posts on impostor syndrome also inspired me, and assisted me in creating this list.
I really want to thank Katie for sharing her experiences – particularly, ‘If I could write a perfect story, I wouldn’t be here’ resonated with me. If I could craft a perfect experiment, or write a perfect research article, I wouldn’t be in my PhD program! Science and writing in graduate school are all fundamentally about making mistakes and getting better – something “impostors” need to recognize, in order to move forward and improve. Check out more about Katie and her work here, and thanks for reading!