BY RILEY GUERRERO '20
Two months ago, I walked into the org fair with my head held high, a self-imposed limit of four (maybe five) orgs already set, and any conception of reasonable time-management already down the drain. Of all the surprises that awaited me under the packed white tent, including but naturally not limited to Korean martial arts clubs, roleplaying troupes and more language clubs than I had even imagined, I was struck by the revelation that besides the school’s literary magazine, there was no club dedicated to creative or transformative writing. This was an alien concept to me, as my high school had a relatively popular Aspiring Authors’ Club. Where that fell short for the sort of fiction I was writing, I joined other groups online. Considering the wide variety of other clubs that Mount Holyoke boasts and the emphasis put on advertising ourselves as the alma mater of Emily Dickinson, I had expected to be able to pick my favorite out of a few writing groups.
With the ideal of the starving artist being inseparably tied to the slightly-more-starving writer in recent decades, the “backup plan” approach to imagining a future with one foot outside the system has flourished. Aiming for other, more reliably-profitable careers while holding onto the dream of being a writer is a safe approach to the profession, and it’s easy to understand why. The cost of living is skyrocketing across the nation. Trying to find a path to economic stability is like weaving through a minefield. On top of that, heavy course-loads don’t leave a considerable amount of space for pursuing time-intensive hobbies like writing. Still, among biochemistry and politics majors alike, the dream of being an author or a poet persists, as does a passion for seeing others’ stories grow and develop.
Though creative writing is a far cry from lab reports and comparative essays, it has significant benefits to traditional, analytical writing as well as students’ health. Non-academic writing has been found to help relieve stress and improve mood, according to a 2005 study in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Experimenting with styles and tones in an atmosphere with no pressure or grade, getting something more than a number from your writing and getting opinions from peers instead of a professor, are just a few of the obvious benefits to moving outside the rigid constraints of academic essay guidelines. However, this freedom is also the biggest fear of those who stare down the blank word document before them: Without guidelines, without a support system of requirements and recommendations, maybe what we produce won’t be up to their standards, let alone anyone else’s.
The Mount Holyoke community is bursting at the seams with creativity, and filled with people from every walk of life with stories to share. Each person has a different set of readings to draw from and different specialties across subjects and the writing process alike. Though the boons of creative writing range from author to author, every writer creates something uniquely personal to them that gives them a greater insight into who they are as a person and as a student. The fear that creative writing may lead down a dark rabbit hole of infinite revision and self-exploration must be cast aside — it’s true, naturally, but nothing that needs to be avoided. Hopefully someday soon, aspiring authors across campus can find a community that is not just a part of the collegiate experience, but a part of its students’ minds, bodies and souls all together.