Junot Diaz and Fear
Contributor
Written by
Brandi Ballard
December 2011
Contributor
Written by
Brandi Ballard
December 2011

As part of the Fall Literary Festival at USC, Junot Diaz did a public reading and a master class with the MFA students. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown. He said a lot of things that resonated with me. He talked about how writers would be better off if they spent more time with readers, if they read, and if they make space for readers within the text. Both presentations were wonderful, but what really stuck with me was his comments on fear. He put into words what I have been feeling in the program lately. I’ve felt like I am not hacking it and I’m a fraud. These are common fears for writers (especially the later one). I even had a brief moment recently where I didn’t think I could make it any longer. That’s not to alarm anyone, it was a momentary thought guided more by fear than rational thought. He talked about how all of us in MFA programs are afraid and we can’t let that fear effect our play. We have to be open and willing to explore.

After the reading, I waited in line to have my books signed. I wanted to tell him how much it helped me to hear him talk about those fears. It made a space within me where it was ok to feel those things. I knew it because I had heard other students express the same fears but, for some reason, it took Junot Diaz saying it to me for it to sink in. Anyway, when I got up to him in line, I told him about my fears that I couldn’t hack it. He told me, and mind you this is paraphrase, to “Read. Read what you love. Go back to what you love and regroup. You’re spooking yourself out. There is no one better than you girl, I don’t care how many poems or stories other people write.” His comments really struck me. He was right. Since I’ve come here, I haven’t read any nonfiction other than what has been required for class. I am letting myself get pulled in all these different directions that have nothing to do with the real reason I am here or are only secondary to it. Since last night, I’ve thrown myself back into my academic work. Instead of sitting around feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to get the work done so I can focus the rest of my time on reading and writing. It is all about creating space for the work you love.

Reposted from the Writerly Habit

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