When I was fifteen, I made a bucket list of the things I wanted to do, and “Write a book” was one of the first items on that list. I have memories from third grade about writing stories and reading them to my class. I actually cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t dreaming about writing a book, reading books, scribbling in journals, or making notes on a computer—always reading and writing.
I signed up for my first Gotham Writers Workshop (Memoir I) when I was 22 and working in Italy as an au-pair. The online community at Gotham was the first place I felt safe enough to share stories of my mother’s opioid and alcohol addiction, and writing about her was such a healing process for me. But even though I loved writing and it was one of my greatest passions, I was new at it and had a lot to learn. Being a student at Gotham was the best first step I could have taken to learn about the art of memoir, what it takes to make deadlines, and commit to the work. I also gained so much through the connections with other new writers. Writing can be a very lonely passion, and it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone in my loneliness.
Fast forward a few years later and I was 25 living in New York City. I had a job that I enjoyed in Travel Public Relations, and had published several travel stories on the side, but my desire to write a book hadn’t gone away. So I signed up for Memoir II. I walked into Cullen Thomas’s class on a cold evening in January. The class was small and intimate, and one of our first assignments was (if I remember correctly) to write about something we hadn’t written about before. My English mastiff, Gizelle, had passed away a couple of weeks prior, so I wrote about her death, and what it was like to be in the room with her when she passed away.
If someone would have told me that the pages I wrote in class that evening about my dog were going to be part of the ending of my first book, I would have told them to get out of town.
But that’s what happened. A couple of weeks later I published another story about a bucket list I made for my dog that (much to my surprise) went viral. Over a million people shared and read the story and flooded my inbox with emails. I didn’t know what to do when my story started going viral but I knew I had to do something, so I emailed my Gotham instructor Cullen asking for his advice.
He was more than happy to help and soon I was slaving over my first book proposal about life with my very large dog, trying to prove to publishers that I had a bigger story to tell. Cullen read and edited my proposal and encouraged me along the way, and next thing I knew I was writing a memoir that was going to be published in fifteen countries….which was not something I ever could have anticipated.
Writing my first book was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and I struggled greatly with self-doubt and uncertainty. I also struggled writing a memoir, observing myself and exploring my past in a way I never had.
Cullen remained one of my biggest cheerleaders and mentors along the way, always reassuring me that my story was worthy and that I could do this. I know Gotham Writers Workshop is one of the reasons I am where I am now, with a published book titled Gizelle’s Bucket List; My Life with a Very Large Dog on the shelf. Having support through the writing process from people who understood what I was going through was crucial, and still remains crucial.
I am so grateful for that experience. At 28, I look forward to taking more classes and continuing my journey as a writer and lifelong learner.
Lauren Fern Watt