EDITOR’S NOTE: Marie Gerken is a graduate of the Alma College Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA) program with the Class of 2023. She wrote this blog post about her experiences at Alma.

During Term Three, I will decide whether to pursue the idea to develop a writing workshop which will be offered to the community and held at my local library.

I included the above words in my study plan while a student in the Alma College MFA program as an idea to gain experience and move myself forward in the world of writing. The idea to build and lead a workshop felt both attainable and far stretched. I knew I had the skills to lead since I co-founded a writing group and facilitated its communication and meetings for eight years at my local library. But did I know enough about craft to instruct?

The word “decide” was essential because I left residency with a loose idea for my critical thesis, and for me, writing it was not a stroll on the beach. So, I decided not to pressure myself into forming a workshop at the same time. But it didn’t allow me to forget about it. A year later at graduation when I wondered now what, the workshop poked me. I poked it back wondering how, what, and when?

A few days later, I started reading Mario Puzo’s second novel, “The Fortunate Pilgrim.” It received glowing reviews, yet book sales were low. Puzo considered this his best, most literary, and most personal book. In November 1996, thirty years after it was first published, he wrote:

All young writers dream of immortality — that hundreds of years in the future the new generations will read their books and find their lives changed, as my life was after reading “The Brothers Karamazov” at the age of fifteen. I vowed I would never write a word that was not absolutely true to myself. And I felt I had achieved that in “The Fortunate Pilgrim.” I assumed that such a writer would automatically become rich and famous.

I received marvelous reviews. But then came the next surprise. Nothing happened. I didn’t become rich and famous. In fact, I was poorer than before; I had to work two jobs instead of one.

I am no Mario Puzo, but I had two jobs when I blogged about caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s. Writing is hard work. Writing is an important art. My blog didn’t make me rich and famous, but readers told me my story helped them. Just when we think nothing is happening or our writing isn’t making a difference, a reader finds refuge from pain or loneliness or boredom in our words or a new writing opportunity falls into our hands. We don’t always know the affects and effects of our writing. How willing are we to pursue practicing this craft without a known outcome or income?

Puzo’s detailed writing and word choice in “The Fortunate Pilgrim” awakened all my senses to the point that I was living inside the book; sitting at the kitchen table of Lucia Santa as she stands at the stove over a brown pot of garlic sizzling in olive oil while a cigarette burns in an ash tray on the counter and down in the 1928 New York Central Railroad yard, her young son Gino, after stealing ice to resell, hops freight cars to outrun the police under the August sun.

As I read page after page, the workshop developed itself naturally. I wrote a plan for the six-week generative writing workshop with a focus on the five senses for writers of all genres and levels. I suggested it start in September to allow writers to pay close attention to the temperatures chilling waxed skin of gourds and squash, the leaves turning to blood orange, golden yellow, and burgundy, the spices infused in cider donuts, pumpkin everything, homemade chicken pot pie and minestrone soup, the fallen dried leaves crunching under boots hiking a Midwestern forest as sand cranes fly south, and the relaxed smoke drifting from a backyard fire pit.

The librarian accepted my pitch. Initially, I intended to volunteer my time to facilitate the workshop, though I found out the library has a budget for speakers. I didn’t become rich and famous from this either, but I was delighted to receive my first payment as a writer. I also appreciated the surprise of the library advertising the workshop on the front page of their autumn events brochure. Thank you!

Writers signed up. I hoped I had enough stamina and content for the twelve hours of workshop. Writers showed up. I hoped they would return.

They came back each week! And each session flew by with no time to spare. Together, we learned. We were challenged. We created art. Some writers were inspired to start a new writing project. Some writers felt renewed. Some writers appeared revitalized when withheld stories were written down. At the end, each of us left with something valuable for every living writer: the courage to act and keep writing. Because of all this, I am fortunate.