Welcome our own Sharon Darrow to the Launchpad! Out January 1st from Pudding Hill Press, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life.
Sharon Darrow brings her experience in writing for children, young adults, and adults to these lessons taken from lectures she presented during twenty years of teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sharon graduated from VCFA’s MFA in Writing in July 1996.
What was the most difficult element to change during the revision process?
Most of these chapters began as lectures for VCFA residencies. I had written them to present in my natural voice and to an audience of students working in a rigorous academic program toward the MFA degree. The revision process was meant to change spoken lectures into written essays that would be easier to read and yet still retain something of my spoken voice. That meant cutting parts, reworking sentences for clarity and concision, and making sure that the book could appeal to a wider audience of writers than just those listeners sitting in Chapel Hall already familiar with me, with VCFA, and with some of our unique VCFA-WCYA jargon.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
I suppose it was partly my love for thinking and talking about writing, especially writing for young readers. As I was coming to the end of my teaching career at VCFA, I felt the need to do a kind of review of where I had been, what I had been thinking about, and what I had discovered during those twenty years. It is so hard to leave this job I’ve loved so very much, and this book seemed to be a way to end with a flourish, I guess. I also wanted to find a way to give back, at least in my own small way, not just with the lectures, but also in a monetary way. I intend to donate a portion of my profits from this book to VCFA-WCYA scholarship funds. When I entered Vermont College, I had no idea how much my life would change. Now, looking back over those two years of intense study in writing, then coming to help start the new program and seeing it grow, seeing us become a strong self-sufficient Fine Arts college, and watching countless students’ lives grow and change, I am so proud. Now, I have a very strong and satisfying sense of accomplishment in finishing that long and exciting chapter of my life.
What’s your writing superpower?
Superpower, huh? I’m not sure how super it is, but ever since I began writing I have told myself that I have an “idiotic faith” in my life in writing. At first, “idiotic faith” meant I believed that if I worked hard enough, built a strong writing process, learned as much as I could, and never stopped learning, I would eventually see my work published. That took many years, but it did turn out to happen. I suppose I thought of that kind of faith as idiotic because there was no evidence that I’d achieve the hoped for outcome. I simply decided that if it were idiotic, then that’s what I’d be. I’d believe and work and surrender to the outcome, wherever it took me.
Later, as a teacher, I found that “idiotic faith” I’d applied to myself transferred to my students. I believed in them, in their stories, and in their dedication to what was deep inside them, driving them to aim for excellence. I knew they could become stronger and stronger writers, and, eventually, authors of wonderful and important books, stories, essays, and poems.
Now, that faith seems far less idiotic as I’ve seen it fulfilled in my life and in my students’ lives and work. Now, my superpower is hope for my writing future and a not-so-idiotic faith that I will keep learning and growing through story for the rest of my life.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It changed my life completely, gave me new purpose and a new career, new friends, new characters, and new stories—a whole new world. I also started writing poetry, probably the biggest effect of the program on my life and writing. Not to mention, a whole new place to live! I moved from Chicago to Vermont in 2005 and never looked back.
How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?
Teaching has opened new ways of thinking and being in the world for me. It has made me more empathetic and made me more decisive about my opinions on aspects of life and writing. A drawback has been that I’ve spent a lot of my writing energy on other people’s stories and have ignored my own at times, but that may be due more to my own distractibility and tendency to procrastination than anything. I have awakened many nights thinking about my students’ stories instead of my own, but looking back, I have no regrets about that. To have been a part of life-changing experiences in my students’ lives, similar to those my teachers fostered in me, is one of the most satisfying achievements of my life.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
The answer to both of these questions is the same: Do not be afraid! Be excited, be thrilled, but put away any fear. If you have been accepted, then you can believe you belong here. Come with open mind and heart, and meet a whole multitude of new best friends, companions on your writing journey.
Work hard and have faith!