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Reflecting on my time at SNHU

As I sit here binge-watching Jane the Virgin, it feels like the right time to post the reflection I submitted for my English and creative writing capstone course.

My story begins with a little country girl who loved to imagine things and tell tall tales. Spoiler alert—this girl is me. I loved to go to the local library in town to check out books. I read a lot over summer breaks and read extra books during the school year to receive my stars for the Pizza Hut Book-It program. Who didn’t love getting those personal pan pizzas for free? Anyway, back to my pastime of telling tall tales. My imagination was so vivid that I would tell stories that had truth to them, but I made them more interesting, in my humble opinion. Adults around me did not think that was acceptable. I was told to stop telling stories. So, I suppressed it. And, as I advanced through school, I lost my love for reading because I found it harder to do, especially once I got to fifth grade. Little did I know at the time (because I was an A-student) that I was struggling with a learning disability—I just found a way to make it work.

Fast forward to graduating high school (which I did with honors and as the Salutatorian). My parents and I didn't always agree on what I would do next. I really wanted to be a cosmetologist, but that was not a realistic option. I ended up at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire studying something “practical” and that would “get me a good job.” Academics aside, I loved every moment of my journey at UW-Eau Claire. I did well, even though I continued to struggle with my reading skills. But I graduated in the top seven percent of my class and with summa cum laude honors. I even landed a full-time job before graduation...in marketing. Though I majored in operations and materials management, I had five marketing internships during my undergrad.

The next ten years of my professional career were spent in the fields of marketing (mostly digital marketing) and development. I worked in a variety of industries and for both the private and nonprofit sectors. If I'm being honest with myself, I hated my work life. I was unhappy. I wasn’t experiencing growth like I expected. I was always on the clock and therefore always feeling stressed out. But there was one common thread of enjoyment both in my work and personal life: writing. But that was not something I could make a full-time career out of that. I’m wasn't a real writer.

In 2016, my husband (fiancé at the time) and I started binge-watching the CW’s Jane the Virgin. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it is about an aspiring romance novelist, Jane Villanueva. As silly as it may sound, this show inspired me to take action and gave me the courage I needed to become a writer. I decided I was going to pursue an associate degree in technical writing because that would at least land me in a career path that involves writing full-time. But life had a different plan for me. Just before I finished up my program, I saw a job opening at my alma mater in the marketing department. They were looking for a writer! I thought to myself, What the hell? Why not? I applied that very same day. A month went by and I hadn't received a callback. I figured they weren’t interested, given my lack of true writing experience. But then, one day, out of the blue, I received a callback—they wanted to interview me! I tried to keep my excitement at bay. After two rounds of interviews, I was a finalist! And, well, the rest is history. Because of my communication skills and ability to write not only professionally, but with emotion, I am now a writer for UW-Eau Claire's recruitment marketing efforts. People actually look to me to write within the university's persona—it is a dream come true. And, I have another dream I am chasing after: to become a romance novelist, like Jane Villanueva. I should mention that I finished my associate degree in professional communication (technical writing) within my first six months at UWEC. Then, after a work trip to Bend, Oregon, I was inspired to write a short story that I submitted for a professional critique and even a writing competition. Unfortunately (and fortunately, in a way), It fell flat on its face. The person who critiqued my work was kind, but my work was missing many critical literary elements (mostly because I had no clue what literary elements were). I needed to learn about the foundation of storytelling. Maybe I should get an MFA? I thought to myself. Yes, that’s it!

I planned to apply to the creative writing programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Harvard Extension School, and the University of Texas-El Paso. I reviewed the curriculum side by side and decided that I would start by applying only to my first-choice school: SNHU. (Just to see how it goes, you know?) I had a wonderful admissions counselor, Alicia Gagne. I applied to the MFA program, submitted my writing sample and letter of application. I was so excited to hear back from them until I received my rejection letter. (It's okay. Really! This is the beautiful beginning of my relationship with SNHU.) To my surprise, Alicia didn’t just write me off. She knew how important it was to me to learn more about creative writing. She came back to me with options. There was another path, another opportunity for me—the right opportunity that would still help me reach my ultimate goal of completing the MFA: the Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing. I can look back today and see now that I was not ready for the MFA program when I first applied. But I look forward to starting the program in January 2022. 😊

A decision my academic advisor, Jennifer Langley and I made was to put the pedal to the medal and take two courses each term with the thought that if I wanted to reapply to the MFA program after getting a couple of courses under my belt, I could and even shorten the length of my programs combined. But the truth is, I ended up loving the MA program so much that I decided to complete it and earn the degree. Along the way, I had three key moments. First, I learned that the one subject I feared most, literary theory, is actually my jam. I love it and I will likely teach this topic at the collegiate level someday. Second, all of the required reading and analysis led me to nearly drop out of the program. I had finally come face-to-face with a few issues I was experiencing that I hid deep down, issues that I never knew even had names: dyslexia, ADHD, and language processing disorder. Once I accepted what I was going through and that it didn’t make me “less than,” I reached out to Jennifer, who connected me with the resources I needed to be more successful and for readings and coursework to become more enjoyable. I am forever grateful to her. Finally, the third key moment happened when I received a note from my screenwriting instructor, which I will explain further in the next paragraph.

Both of my advisors, as well as my instructors, have been wonderful influences throughout the program, but I did encounter a couple of unexpected influences: screenwriting and the peer-review process. Because Jennifer worked closely with me to curate my course load, I was able to take a screenwriting course and uncover a skill set that I am really good at and quite enjoy. My instructor even sent me a note to tell me that I have a talent for screenwriting and should seriously consider pursuing it. I will definitely keep this in my back pocket as I write novels because much like Julia Quinn, I would love to write a series that one day becomes adapted for TV, like her Bridgerton series, now a popular show on Netflix. (I am her and Shonda Rhimes' biggest fans). The other influence I encountered was the peer-review process. This whole process influenced how I approach my work and incorporate other’s feedback. My peers have helped me out of the gutter more than once.

Storytelling is the biggest skill I developed from this entire program. It is the skill I came for and I am thrilled to say I am leaving with much more—both in skills and confidence. But when I reflect on my experience as a whole, a couple of skills I developed really shine. First, my ability to show, not tell. This is where my storytelling really fell flat before I came to SNHU. I look back now and I wouldn’t want to read what I wrote because it was boring. I was telling my reader how to feel instead of giving them the space to feel by showing not telling. Next, I developed a really good set of analytical skills. I love literary criticism and I can see myself publishing scholarly articles in the future, especially through the critical lenses of feminism and Marxism. I also enjoy psychoanalysis.

The skills I have learned and the appreciation for the peer-review process came full circle in my capstone project. This was my opportunity to pull it all together. And, what started as one storyline has become something so much better thanks to the feedback I received from my peers as well as my instructor. This program is the foundation I need to feel like a writer and not a fraud. For the first time in my life, I actually believe that I am a writer. A good writer. And, I very well may be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. But I will never know for sure unless I try. I am blessed that my role at UW-Eau Claire allows me to write creatively every day. This helps me in my novel writing, and the skills I developed through the MA program have enhanced my skills and performance at work. I find that I am able to better tell stories to support our marketing efforts. I am able to write and speak more eloquently. I am able to better manage my time. My reading skills have improved ten-fold. And, I am able to defend my work and persuade decision-makers when needed. This program has not only enhanced my professional career and fueled my future career as a novelist, but it has also changed my life for the better.

To celebrate the completion of my MA and commencement, I am sharing a few special opportunities with you all because you have been so supportive!

1. Get a FREE COPY of my very first self-published short story, The Night is Young.
Offer valid 5/17-5/21/21.

2. Get a FREE COPY of my second self-published short story, The Right Time for Love
Offer valid 5/17-5/21/21.

3. Get a SNEAK PEEK at my new manuscript I am writing for my first full-length romance novel, A Second Chance. This is a very rough draft of about the first 1/8 of the novel.

Now, if anyone has any tips for shaking the I-need-to-get-my-homework-done-because-it-is-Sunday guilt, I am all ears.

Thank you all for your continued love and support! 💓

—Jen

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