I am a writer who came to writing the hard way. Though I always loved to write, as a young adult I tried to follow the family script, and was studying to become a surgeon at an Adventist pre-professional school in California. It wasn’t until a breakdown during my second year of pre-med that I decided to return to my primary loves–writing and literature. I then made a break from everything familiar, journeying to the east coast to pursue an MFA at the university of Massachusetts.
But sometime during the middle of my MFA program, I stopped being able to write.. Every time I sat down to compose something, I could no longer hear my creative voice, but instead a voice that constantly screamed that my work wasn’t good enough, and that what I had to say wasn’t worth saying. It took a few months for me to understand that I was hearing all the critical (mostly male) voices that I’d been listening to in workshops for the past two years… These voices had amplified my already-overdeveloped inner critic, making her way too loud….
So I started working to tame that inner critic. In my living room, I gathered with a group of women colleagues who were feeling likewise discouraged by our MFA program. We wrote longhand so that we wouldn’t be tempted to delete. We shared our work aloud, talked about both craft and process, and commented supportively on each other’s pieces… This was actually the beginning of Writers in Progress. I realized that I wanted to create a place where other writers could find not only instruction, but also permission and validation, not only craft advice but also insight into the creative process. I wanted to help writers tap into their deepest material and free themselves from the self-censure that can defeat creative work…
Since then, I have gone on to write and publish many long and short stories, including my debut novel, Outside the Ordinary World. But it’s my work with other writers at Studio #359 that bolsters, feeds and energizes me, keeping me true to my writer’s path. There’s something sacred about hearing and honoring the stories that emerge in our workshops and I feel lucky to help facilitate the birth of so many unique voices.
The Shorter Story
Dori Ostermiller is the founding director of Writers in Progress, and the author of a novel, Outside the Ordinary World (MIRA, 2010) which was an Indie Best pick and an MLA must-read, published in several countries. Dori holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Bellingham Review, Alligator Juniper, Bellowing Ark, Peregrine, Calliope, Roanoke Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, The American, The Massachusetts Review and Rumpus, among many others. Dori has worked for over two decades as an editor, and has taught literature and writing at the University of Massachusetts, Westfield State College, Springfield College, Holyoke Community College and Bay Path College. She is the recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist’s Fellowship, a Tobias Wolf Fiction award and a Walker Gibson award, among others. Dori lives in Northampton, with her husband, two daughters and a very pampered Australian Shepherd. She is at work on her second book.