“The biggest mistake you can make is going before you’re ready.” I remember feeling absolutely crushed when someone who I looked up to, someone who I admired, said those words to me. We were on the phone, I was asking her questions about the life she had made for herself as a writer, what her own MFA experience had been like. She regaled me with stories of risks she had taken, risks that had major payoffs. She had packed her life into a suitcase multiple times, moved to cities where she didn’t yet have the money in her bank account for rent, or a job to put it there. She had spoken up in editorial staff meetings, advocating for her writing, asking for projects. She had taken her interests in true crime, music, the underground concert scene, and turned them into articles that magazines were fighting over. And yet, when I told her that I had been accepted into an MFA program, she told me that I might not yet have what it takes to pull off this particular risk.
It’s not fair of me to vilify her in this way, and honestly, I’m not trying to. This is just the most vivid interaction in a long string of conversations where people told me that I was too young to have this dream realized, that I couldn’t possibly be serious enough about writing just yet, that I needed to “go out into the world,” whatever that meant. That I needed to live a life worth writing about. As I sit here, in my apartment in Fort Collins, the leaves changing outside my window and a story that I am passionate about writing open in another tab on my laptop, I am so, so thankful that I didn’t listen
There is something so tantalizing about three years, almost eleven hundred days, to put your writing first. I wanted to lean into that part of my brain that was telling me that I couldn’t go on with my life after undergrad without having given myself one uninterrupted, unencumbered shot at writing for real. So, I graduated over Zoom without having filled out a single job application because I knew deep down that it was writing or bust.
It’s true that the MFA as a cultural entity can be exclusive. Tuition rates, colonization, and the overall snobbishness of literary circles are just some of the obstacles still facing minority groups. These issues are just recently making their way into the forefront of conversations about inclusivity, and unfortunately, across the board, there is still a lot of work to be done.
However, the community that I have found here at Colorado State is exceptional in its effort to mold the next generation of writers into self-aware advocates for change. In fact, this awareness is one of the reasons that I chose CSU, but I was still nervous about entering an MFA program right after college.
The moment I set foot in Fort Collins I was overcome with the notion that maybe everyone had been right, maybe I wasn’t mature enough for this. Suddenly, all the ideas I had in my head seemed too juvenile to put down on paper. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry. My peers have welcomed me with open arms, our age gaps spanning from one to five to fifteen years. The faculty members have assured me that my voice is worthy of a place in this world, and have encouraged me to explore, to read widely, to write avidly with the time I’ve been given.
I came to CSU because, for me, there was no “Plan B.” I couldn’t imagine my life going forward without taking the time to write, to be among people who cared about my writing and were invested in its success. The more time I spend here the more I come to realize that age has nothing to do with my worthiness. Rather, it’s my writing, my desire to better my craft that has earned me my place here. As far as risks go, I think that this one was worth taking.
Nicole Pagliari is a first-year MFA candidate in Fiction from Chicago, IL