Creative Writing major Cecelia Westbrook describes how she found the right form.

When I declared my Creative Writing major in the fall of 2014, I considered myself a poet and nothing but a poet.

As an incoming freshman, I didn’t have much experience under my pencil. I had taken one creative writing class in high school, and enjoyed the poetry section the most. I even went out of my way to write extra poems, which made my final project grade 115/100.

Cecelia at the  launch party for Tributaries, containing her first publication, the essay “All Babies are Ugly, Except for Me (Just Ask My Uncle).” Top, Cecelia and friends with poet Kaveh Akbar.

If that is what it takes to be considered a “poet,” then I, in fact, was a poet.

Here at BSU, my English 285 class, which is the introductory creative writing course, spent a few weeks on each genre. This was my first exposure to creative non-fiction, which, it seemed to me, was basically taking experiences from your own life and writing them down for other people to read (possibly.) I didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t remember much about what I wrote for this specific course, but I do remember thinking, Can I go back to writing angsty poetry now please?

Then I took a fiction class. Yikes. I had never even considered writing a story, but here I was in this class. When I was assigned the longer piece of the semester, I found myself writing non-fiction, and then changing the details, such as names, places, and ages. When it was workshopped, I was surprised by the positive comments people made on my “fiction.” Well, maybe I should try non-fiction again.

So I did. I took a creative non-fiction class, and fell in love immediately. I finally felt like I had a way to write about emotions and experiences from the past, and still be able to reflect on them in the present. I could capture the rawness that came with life, while being able to section, braid, and form my stories. I could be as lyrical or as dry as I wanted. I could be sarcastic, humorous, serious, or melancholy; I could make my story whatever I wanted to make it. After all, I was writing about my life.

I was taking a poetry class in the same semester as the creative non-fiction class. I could see my separate writing styles for the separate genres begin to blend together. My poetry became more personal in some cases, and my non-fiction was starting to experiment with more distant points of view, like an outsider looking in. As I was realizing this shift in my writing, I also began thinking, I really wish there was a genre that combines poetry and non-fiction.

And then I took my special topics class, and the theme of the course was lyric prose (cue the angels singing). I loved writing poetry and I loved writing non-fiction, but my heart was not ready for the impact and empowerment I felt from lyric prose writing. Where have you been all my life? The lyric prose genre is like the free verse of prose. The author of lyric prose has complete agency over every aspect of the piece. There is no formula, unlike a genre such as fantasy or dystopia-based realities. It was love at first workshop.  For one assignment in this class, I chose a broad topic, “divide,” and wrote unrelated paragraphs, sentences, fragments and words about that topic, and pieced it all together. I wrote about division as a mathematical process, the Ed Sheeran album Divide, and the division between people in my life.

For a different assignment, I used a more poetic format for a more sensitive topic. The assignment was to write from a perspective completely different from our own, so I chose to write from the perspective of an abusive ex-lover. I left words on their own lines, I had a “chorus” stanza that I repeated throughout for emphasis and rhythm, and I played around with italics, bolding, and spacing of words and letters. One of the last pieces I wrote in this class was later edited and accepted for publication. To me, writing lyric prose felt comfortably challenging; the possibilities in this genre are endless, the boundaries entirely of the writer’s making.

As I reflect back on my nearly eight semesters here, I can see my growth not only as a creative writer, but also as a person. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone led to me understanding myself more deeply. Am I still a poet? Or am I a creative non-fiction writer? Who even told me I only had to be one type of writer anyway? Now, I consider myself a writer. And that’s it. I may know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my preferred genres, but I am still learning and growing every day.