Tuesday, February 02, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: If You're Going to Try, Go All the Way

by Hillary Leftwich

Hillary Leftwich with her father
I was called stupid by my classmates. I began to think I wasn’t smart and there was something wrong with me. In kindergarten, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and held back from the first grade. The love of reading saved me.

One of my happiest memories during this time was when my dad would to read to me and my older brother at bedtime from a book called Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh. As I grew older, I figured in order to improve my own reading and writing I would have to read as many books as I could. I looted my mom’s bookshelf. I read her entire hardback collection of Stephen King and Douglas Adam novels. When I ran out of those, I moved on to Poe, Fitzgerald, anything I could get my hands on, sometimes reading two or three books at a time. 

Reading was a natural progression into writing. After my parents divorced, we were dirt poor. I was always aware of how bad off we were, yet somehow my dad found the money to buy an electric typewriter and gave it to me. I guess he figured to be a professional writer you had to have a typewriter. I soon found myself writing my first short stories.

In junior high I was harassed and bullied. It was the first time I began to suffer from what would be a lifelong battle with severe depression. During this time I focused on writing as a way of escaping. I wasn’t aware that my short stories were anything more than a way of expressing myself. 

State of Colorado Young Writers Award
My senior year English teacher convinced me to submit one of my stories to a state competition for young writers, which I did, with much hesitation. It was the first time one of my stories would be read by anyone, and it scared me to death. When my school’s principal asked me to come to his office I thought I was in trouble (again) but he congratulated me and told me I had won first place. It was a surreal but fantastic moment in my life.

During this time I took a ten year hiatus from writing. I started college, was put on academic suspension for bad grades (too much partying) and moved back home with my tail between my legs. I had a baby and had to untangle myself from a horrific and messy domestic violence situation with my son’s father. I realized the only way to better my life and my son’s life would be to go back to school. 

I was accepted into CU Denver and moved to pursue my degree in English. I was working full time and during my last semester before graduation, my son, who suffers from epilepsy, had a terrifying series of seizures and almost died, really should have died, according to the doctors. 

My son at Children’s Hospital
I spent a week sitting next to his hospital bed, diving into my homework, trying to get my mind busy. I began a blog to keep track of what was happening and found this type of insight-through-writing to be therapeutic in a way I never considered. I found a new love for creative nonfiction. It opened a vein for me, a way of writing about my experiences with domestic violence, my son’s disorder, (hell, all of my struggles), in a way that fiction would not allow.

After receiving my MA in creative writing from Regis University I began to focus solely on writing for the first time. I was working odd hours as a private investigator and as a maid, supplementing my income by occasionally modeling for pinups. 

I stumbled upon a NYC based mystery novelist, Chris Orcutt, who took me under his wing and became my mentor. He told me to write what I know and to hell with everyone else. I was also working with Marty McGovern, my advisor and professor, who introduced me to flash fiction, a genre I knew nothing about. I found Kathy Fish’s flash online and instantly felt something spark inside of me. There is something about her style that really connected with me and I read as many flash writers and journals I could find: Pamela Painter, Elizabeth Ellen, Sean Lovelace, Randall Brown, Kim Chinquee, Amber Sparks, Sherrie Flick, Gay Degani, the list goes on. 

MFA with David Hicks and Kathy Fish.
During my reading I discovered a journal called NANO Fiction. I fell in love with their micro stories and set a goal that my first flash fiction story would be published in their journal. After six months of probably too much revision, they accepted my first story. 

I’ve had a lot of people take chances on me. Because I had no experience, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and still do. I never want to let anyone down, including myself. I attribute my dive back into writing to Chris and Marty, who told me to never give up, that writing is possible, that a single working mom with no publications or background can be just as successful as everyone else. 

In January, I began the Mile High MFA program at Regis University and found myself surrounded by an incredibly supportive as well as talented community (including Kathy Fish!). The co-director, David Hicks, is one of those people you meet maybe once or twice in your lifetime, if you’re lucky. In addition to co-founder/co-director Marty McGovern and their program assistant, they all have managed to foster a culture of unrelenting support amongst the faculty and my cohorts. This was a huge relief because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an MFA program.

I recently quit my job to pursue my MFA and writing full time. I gave up everything. I knew if I was going to do it, I had to go all the way. I couldn’t half-ass it. Quitting my job and leaving the 8-5 routine is the scariest thing I have ever done, especially when my son is depending on me, but there are moments when you have the chance to take a huge leap of faith and just trust yourself, trust your gut. Your gut will never be wrong. I will never regret the choices I made because they all led me to writing, my first love, and without writing, there is no leap, no exhilaration. And without this, what kind of life is that to live?  


Hillary Leftwich lives in Denver with her son and is currently attending the Mile High MFA program in Denver for fiction. She is the associate editor for The Conium Review and the nonfiction editor for The Fem. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, WhiskeyPaper, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Dogzplot, Cease, Cows, Five Pure Slush Vol. 10., Crab Fat Magazine, Eunoia Review, Tethered by Letters, Progenitor, One Sentence Love Stories with Meg Pokrass, and The Citron Review. Her story “Free Lunch” was nominated by Progenitor for The Pushcart Prize in 2015. She thanks her writing tribe, The Fishtank, for their continued support. Find her on Twitter @HillaryLeftwich.


susan tepper said...

So much honesty and bravery! BRAVA Hillary for moving forward despite all odds.

Jayne Martin said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Hillary. You are an inspiration.

Anne said...

I am so glad to be on this journey with you, Hillary. x

urgent essay writing service said...

Very inspiring story! It was hard, but you derived the right consequences and I decided to never give up! That is great!I wish you good luck.

janstout said...

Hillary, your honesty, bravery and persistence are exemplary. And then there's your gorgeous writing. Thanks for bringing us on your journey.