The End of an Era.

Written by Nikki Quinn.

Anxiety (noun): an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it

On April 2nd, 2015, I started my first day as an intern.

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April 2nd, 2015

I knew I needed an internship if I wanted an entry-level job. I needed to have experience, even if it was unpaid experience. I had just turned twenty-two a few months prior; I was finishing up my last year in undergrad as an English: Writing major with a minor in Spanish; and, I had severe depression and an anxiety disorder.

My internship required me to answer & make phone calls and to speak to new people — both were amongst many of my paralyzing fears. In my undergrad classes, I was silent; my participation was scarce and my grades suffered due to that. My anxiety was so overwhelming that I couldn’t make doctor’s appointments or order my own food. What could’ve possibly convinced me to contact Gotham Writers’ Workshop for an internship that required me to do these things when I couldn’t do it for myself? Who knows.

On my first day, I woke up early to do my hair and makeup. I dressed casually with a hint of formal just to make a good impression. I made sure I had my morning cup of coffee, which could’ve possibly made my nervous jitters worse, so I would be fully awake by the time I arrived at 555 8th Avenue.

I don’t remember much of my first day, but I do remember the fear that washed over me when the phone rang while I sat at the intern desk. I wanted to answer, I did. But I couldn’t move. I made someone else do it.

In the following weeks, I knew I had no choice. And what made it a little easier was knowing I had people around me who didn’t care how many times I asked the same question.

By the end of the month, I was answering phones. Still nervous, yes — I had an abnormal fear of being wrong. But I accomplished something that held me hostage for years.


I graduated in June of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, a 3.1 GPA, and as a member of Sigma Tau Delta: International Honor Society of English. I was also in the midst of writing my Statement of Purpose for graduate schools, specifically Master of Fine Arts programs across the globe.

Now, before I continue, note my GPA. To many, that’s an average GPA, a GPA that says “Eh, could’ve done a little better, but okay.” To me, that’s a perfect score, a 4.0. How? Why?

That depression & anxiety didn’t just come along shortly before becoming an intern. No, that had manifested way earlier while I was in my second and third years of undergrad. And my grades suffered because of it. There were many days  the previous night’s panic attack drained me: emotionally, physically, mentally. I missed days of classes and days I didn’t miss, I wasn’t mentally there. I failed an entire semester.

After putting myself before anything else, including school & work, slowly but surely — I became a functioning person. My anxiety wasn’t debilitating; it was still there, but I was in the midst of learning coping mechanisms. As for my depression, it was better than it was before. And so, I made the decision to retake all my failed classes and graduate a year later to boost my GPA.

Back at Gotham, I was constantly throwing out ideas for my Statement of Purpose: the first book I read, the first time I wrote something, the day my fourth grade teacher told me I had a unique talent of writing creatively, so on & so forth. None of them seemed to work. My drafts were all over the place and I didn’t feel like I genuinely meant most of the things I said. I was about to say “Eff this!” and throw all my drafts up in the air at any moment.

“Write about the semester you failed.” Alex, the president of Gotham, told me.

“Write about what??”

“The semester you failed.”

“Wouldn’t that make me look bad? I’m trying to cover that up with all my good grades.”

“You’ve graduated, you failed a semester and still have a high GPA, and you’re part of an honor society. Write about your lows, what you did to change that, and highlight your accomplishments now.”

I would like to note that he told me this while sitting cross-legged on the floor with his laptop in his lap. That’s just how it is here: chill.

And with the help of Carter Edwards, my MFA Mentor, and of course — the Gotham staff who had to listen to a thousand different ways I could say one sentence — I got into Kingston University in London, England for my MFA.

At the same time, I was being pressed to find a job. I was twenty-two, living with my parents, and still expecting them to give me a weekly allowance. However, finding a job in New York City wasn’t the easiest.

During my downtime, in between answering phone calls and writing my Statement of Purpose, I was looking for a job. Alex and Dana, the Director of One-on-One Services / Dean of Students (oh, and the interns’ supervisor), knew I was struggling and did one of the greatest things that not only helped me, but helped them, and that was creating Blog Launch. I became the instructor for Blog Launch, a three-hour One-on-One service where I teach clients the in’s and out’s of the blogging platform of their choosing and get them from nothing to something.


The staff at Gotham weren’t just coworkers or my superiors. They are my friends and my Gotham family. And especially that: family.

Families are those that want the best for you, that will help you achieve your goals, that see your ups and downs & still know the great person you are, that understand you have weird obsessions like Harry Potter, Sharpie markers, and stickers but love you regardless.

And that’s Gotham. 

In the early summer of 2016, I found out that I wouldn’t be able to head to London for my MFA. The expenses were too much, and I’d be in debt until… well, basically, my children would have to pay my loans. I wasn’t becoming a doctor or a lawyer, a profession that guarantees me a wealthy income and one where I could pay these ridiculous loans back in ten to twenty years. No, I was following my heart, my passion, and becoming a writer — a career path that the brave travel down. Why the brave? Because from the moment I was suggested an MFA in undergrad, I was told that it’d be hard to find a job and, although not impossible, it is rare to become to the next J.K. Rowling. I understood that the thousands upon thousands will not just roll on in; but, I knew I had a story that needed to be told. I knew I needed to write the book for those who were in my position at 15, the book I needed at that age.

And so, I began to apply to MFA programs in and around the New York City area.

Within two weeks of my devastating withdrawal from Kingston University, I was granted admission to the Children’s Literature and Young Adult Writing MFA Program at the New School with a $7,000 Dean’s List Grant.

Throughout this entire time of finding MFA programs, writing/re-writing/editing my manuscript & Statement of Purpose, finding a job, dealing with personal issues… Gotham was there. And Gotham became my safe place, the place where I was at peace, the place I felt more supported than anywhere else.

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Evolve (verb): to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state

Today is August 2nd, 2016.
Today is my last official day as an intern at Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
And I can proudly say it was through this internship that I became the person I wanted to always be.

I was never a confident person. I continuously doubted myself and my strengths. At Gotham, if they heard a slightly negative remark about myself, I was made to say three positive things to counteract all that negativity. And from that, confidence started to build.

I was always fearful of meeting new people, those awkward small-talk conversations and not knowing what to do with your hands. By the end, I was able to smile without fear and say, “Hey! I heard you like ____. So do I!” And start a conversation.

I learned to laugh at mistakes and myself when needed.
Thank you, Justin and Alex. 

I learned to breathe through difficulty, honor my soul, and overcome one fear at a time.
Thank you, Dana.

I learned to be positive & kind for every person you meet is fighting a battle & to not let this world make you hard.
Thank you, Kelly and Melissa.

I learned to be proud of your quirkiness and of yourself, embrace it (even if you do know way too many facts about Friends).
Thank you, Britt. 

I learned what it is to be a helping hand at all times, no matter what you’re in the middle of.
Thank you, Charlie. 

I learned more about myself in this year and a half than I would have anywhere else, even in the comforts of my own home. I arrived scared, felt powerless, and drained of self-esteem. And now, I leave confident, powerful, and more content and tranquil than ever.

Peace out, Gotham. ✌️
You know I’ll be back.

It’s All Over (Kind Of)

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By Cary Chapman

On Wednesday, August 31st at 5:01 pm, I will no longer have the right to call myself a Gotham Intern. I will have to change the setting on LinkedIn from “May 2016- Present” to “May 2016- August 2016,” like an epitaph of some poor 18th-century infant. And when you make a change on LinkedIn, you know Father Time is knocking on your doorstep with textbook bills in one of his gnarled hands and a fistful of syllabi in the other.

My internship is ending and I will return to school, which leaves me with two options: I either lapse back into my college student identity or perpetually refer to myself as “Cary Chapman, former Gotham Intern.” The third option is to just live life without a label attached, but we all know that the social media age is not built for those with no personal brand.

Regardless of what I choose to call myself, I will really miss this place. Thankfully, I’ll be sticking around somewhat to help with Write-Ins and registrations, which leads me to the title of this piece: It’s All Over (Kind Of). Although I’m ending my internship in a few days, it’s not really all over. I’ll be here now and again this fall, but even more importantly, the skills and experiences I’ve been lucky enough to gain here at Gotham will stick with me as I go off into the world beyond The Fourteenth Story of 555 8th Avenue.

I’ve acquired a healthy respect for customer service representatives everywhere– they’re people and their jobs are challenging. Next time I feel frustrated with whoever answers the phone at ConEd or my doctor’s office or any number of places, I’m going to take a deep breath and watch my tone of voice. Except if it’s a robot. Then I’m just going to annunciate as hard as I possibly can and if I sound like the most condescending person ever to emerge from a British novel, so be it.

And speaking of robots, I’ve learned that kindness– real, human kindness– works as a business model. As Dana says, when we’re at our best, no one does customer service better than Gotham. Call us and you will speak to a person. Email us and we will get back to you. Show up at the office and one of us will sit with you to help figure out which one of our class offerings best suits your creative goals. That kindness that we present to the public must be internally infectious, because everyone here is so nice.

I feel like the word “nice” has gotten a bad reputation recently, like “nice” now means “push-over” or “doormat,” so I’d like to take a moment to defend niceness. It’s not about bending to everyone’s whims, or about putting on a fake smile to manipulate others. Being nice is about greeting people when they walk in the door in the morning, sending your free treat-a-friend meals at Maple to someone who’d enjoy them instead of letting them rot away in your inbox, and correcting a mistake without making the person feel less valued. The folks at Gotham have asked me about my weekend, my career goals, and my writing– not in an invasive, interrogatory way, but rather in a genuinely interested way. In a nice way.

I’ve grown to appreciate the value of interacting with others as part of the writing process. The two pillars of the writer’s life, as my Gotham Fiction I teacher Scott Alexander Hess emphasizes, are reading and writing. Both are solitary pursuits, and as an introvert, I am easily swept up in the worlds and stories within my own head. But I’d like to propose a third pillar to the writer’s life: conversation, that lovely and onerous practice of talking and listening to other people. Receiving feedback on my own work and giving it in return have made me a stronger, more objective, and more intentional writer. Plus, getting to know other writers is just plain fun! And, unless you’re a six-year-old kid on a trampoline, we could all use more fun in our lives.

As a Gotham Intern, I’ve had my opinions taken seriously and even sought after. For those of you who have yet to experience this in an internship, let me tell you: it’s as validating as it sounds. I’ve come to terms with the fact that banter is not one of my strengths, but researching a problem and organizing the solution sure is. I’ve uncovered such gems of secret knowledge as: pretzel M&Ms are a girl’s best friend, if you tweet something nice to Rainbow Rowell, she might retweet it, and, to throw in a real one, sometimes people just need permission to go ahead and tell that story.

Gotham, you will be missed!

 

Goodbye Gotham

By Shannon Reilly
Tomorrow marks my last day at Gotham and it blows my mind how quickly the summer flew by. I started here on June 1st, and three little months later, I feel like I’ve gained more than I can possibly express in one blog post.

On our first day, the other Gotham interns and I were literally greeted with open arms. We were always affirmed even when we made terrible, terrible mistakes and we were never ever left hanging with a student or a problem, or a problem student.

During these three months, I had the opportunity to take a dialogue one day intensive class, a screenwriting open house class, as well as a 6 week script analysis class and a 10 week TV writing class. To say my time at Gotham has been educational is an enormous understatement.

Gotham is unlike any other company out there. This small group of dedicated writer-obsessed heroes have helped thousands of people get one step closer to their literary dreams, and that is so powerful to me because most people don’t have enough opportunities in their lifetime to explore that innate creativity we all share.

What amazes me most about Gotham students is that majority of them are not trained writers, and are not necessarily banking on a career in writing, but they join the classes because it gives them a hearty excuse to tell a story, any kind of story, a story other people might even want to listen to someday.

I think the notion that we are all selfish human beings only concerned with our own interests is a false one, and I believe that because of how eager we are to hear other stories, stories often far different from our own. Our main sources of entertainment these days come from television, movies, books, and music. Each one of those categories has mastered the art of how to tell a good story, and that’s exactly what Gotham is all about. Who doesn’t like to hear a good story?

While I can’t possibly quantify how much I’ve learned from these individual classes, I can quantify how much I will miss each and every person who works at Gotham. Never before have I participated in such a positive work environment, one in which everyone walks through the door every morning with a smile on his or her face. People here are kind to each other, and in the big scary world of work, especially here in New York City, this kind of behavior is not common. I feel so fortunate to have met these people (and to have met Cosmo), and I will be a very very very sad girl when I have to leave. Which is tomorrow.

Despite occasionally getting yelled at on the phone by a disgruntled, supremely misinformed student, my time here has been truly a dream. Thank you to everyone who made it as special as it was. This is not a goodbye, it’s a see you later!

A Clear Mind Before Writing (Thanks to Dana’s Yoga)

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By Julia Sipos

Thursdays at Gotham are arguably my favorite days of the week. Not only do I spend the day working alongside the Gotham staff and taking my Creative Writing class in the evening, but I also get to do one of my all-time favorite hobbies – yoga. Just after I finish work, I change into comfortable clothes and dart across the street to a nearby building, but not just for any yoga class, for Dana’s yoga class.

Dana, who is the Dean of Students, director of One-on-One services is also – surprise! – a dedicated yogi here at Gotham. She is the instructor of her own hour-long yoga class every Thursday evening, and little did I know just how refreshing it would be to take yoga before getting in touch with my creative side later on in writing class.

As a yoga lover, I am always interested in attending different types of yoga classes. I’ve been to a few where I had was absolutely clueless and had to try balancing on my head and twisting my arms underneath my legs while sitting crisscross on the floor. Dana’s is not one where you attempt poses that look utterly impossible or feel pressured to compete against the yogis next to you. Dana places a huge emphasis on breathing and moving at your own pace. Rather than comparing ourselves to others in the class or comparing ourselves to how well we performed last week, we should strive to match our breathing and think about our bodies in the moment, Dana says. Additionally, the class is filled with other Gotham staff, past and present, some of them newbies to yoga and others lovers of the practice. Knowing we are all connected through our love for Gotham makes the class that much more easygoing and welcoming.

Anyone who loves consistency would enjoy this class. Dana always begins with asking how everyone is doing, and then having us sit for a few minutes of warm-up meditation to focus on our breathing. Slowly we start moving through sequences of stretches, but each week Dana surprises us with a new, innovative set of poses to keep us on our toes. We run through familiar poses, including child’s pose, warrior pose, and chair pose. She challenges us to push ourselves to a point in our stretching that feels productive for our bodies. She offers modifications for those who need to alter the pose and never ceases to carefully guide us through the sequences, ensuring everyone understands how to execute them.

There is one sequence we perform each week called the “flow.” It includes downward dog, plank position, and cobra. This sequence is our go-to before resetting ourselves for another set of poses and emphasizes the stretches in the back of our legs and using our core muscles before lowering ourselves fully to the ground.

My favorite aspects of Dana’s class include the soothing music, with songs by The XX and Shania Twain, and the reward of Shavasana at the very end of class. Dana starts playing music until about ten minutes into class, when we are fully in tune with our breathing and in the rhythm of the poses. The music makes the environment more peaceful and also makes my breathing less apparent to others. It allows me to thrive in your own little bubble of yoga.

There is never a moment of stillness until the very end of class, when you can rest on your back and fully relax your muscles. These three minutes of Shavasana are the most relaxing minutes of my day, and every Thursday I wake up with a smile on my face knowing I have Shavasana coming later in my day. The best feeling is knowing you deserve those few moments of rest and peace after taking the time out of your schedule to practice yoga and push your body to new limits.

Dana always ends the class on a positive note, reminding us to be thankful for our healthy bodies and our open, curious minds that guide us throughout the day. Feeling refreshed and revitalized, I leave relieved of my stress and walk back across the street to join my classmates in Creative Writing 101. While my muscles are usually tingling by the time I arrive to my seat, feeling lengthened from the various stretches, I pull out my notebook and freely delve into my writing with a clear mind, all thanks to Dana’s yoga.

On the Opposite Side of the Booth

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Calm down, this isn’t student work. It’s an unlicensed Google Image.

By Cary Chapman

I’m about halfway into my Gotham Fiction I class, and I’m developing what can only be a healthy appreciation for the value of critiquing other people’s work. Like many a novice workshopper before me, I was looking forward to the feedback portion of the class. That is, I couldn’t wait for other people to tell me how to improve my work. The part where I return the favor? Eh. I considered it a chore: the price of getting feedback was giving it. I was willing to pay that price, but I wasn’t especially looking forward to the process.

But now that I’ve been through both The Booth (read about that here) and a few weeks of “boothing” other students, I’ve come to realize how important that practice is. Something positive, and something constructively critical: those are the rules. Oh, and you can’t repeat what’s been already said about the piece. In zeroing in on a specific phrase that pulled me into the scene with sensory imagery or a piece of dialogue that didn’t quite feel authentic, I can’t help but learn how to read my work more objectively. Being able to articulate how a particular phrase works to convey emotion and why a certain character portrait feels incomplete makes me a more effective critic of my own hows and whys. 

The Gotham classroom is a wonderful place because of the writer’s community I’ve found there, and I hope that once my class is over, I can continue to be involved in writer’s groups, future classes, and other places where work is shared and feedback delivered. However, this kind of environment, special one that it is, is not a guarantee for anyone, so I’ll need to be able to read, edit, and critique my writing with an impartial eye.

My advice? If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a Gotham class, take the workshop seriously. Take the time to really focus when you’re reading. Find the gem of a metaphor hidden in a grammatical mess. Unpack a sentence that rings awkwardly in your brain. Figure out what it is exactly that makes you feel what the character feels, or why it is that you feel nothing when you’re supposed to. Do it not just for the sake of the writer whose work you’re reading. Do it to make yourself a better writer.

THE BOOTH

Shannon Reilly

 

The writer Dorothy Parker once famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” I feel much the same, as I’m sure the majority of writers out there do. Sitting and staring at the blank page is its own unique form of torture, yet writers endlessly subject themselves to it with the small, glimmering hope that maybe, I don’t know, somehow, I can win the pulitzer, get on a best-seller list, and touch millions of lives, both here and abroad, by tomorrow afternoon.

Unfortunately, there are a few steps in between.

Let’s say that blank white page miraculously fills up with black words. Maybe ten pages fill up, one hundred even! And let’s say you read those pages over and they’re not half bad. They’re actually pretty good. Dare you say, they might be great. Well hey, congratulations to you! That is a real accomplishment. Maybe whatever you’re writing even has a plot, an arc, a beginning, middle and end. Maybe you’ve done everything in your power to ensure that this story is showcasing the very best of your ability. You’re still not done. Then, (and I believe this is the step that hinders most aspiring writers, not the ominous blank page) you have to show the beautiful literary child you’ve created to other people, your only hope being that they don’t viciously squash it.

But really, that’s not a guarantee.

The reason Gotham workshops are so appealing is that they keep you accountable but they also keep your head out of the clouds. Nothing happens overnight (unless you’re Jack Kerouac) and you have to keep your expectations at bay. Not everyone is going to love everything you write. And being in a room full of essential strangers sharing your work for the first time is honestly preferable to being in a room full of loved ones, who don’t really know what to say about that rather shitty sci-fi thriller you’ve spent years perfecting.

When you get your work workshopped at Gotham it’s called ‘boothing’. You sit in a metaphorical booth while the rest of the class constructively critiques your piece. You don’t speak, you don’t explain yourself. You sit and you listen. And this process can be brutal. What do you mean you didn’t understand my complex yet humanized heroine?!? How could you have missed that scenic transition! It was so OBVIOUS!

What we’ve created feels so personal and vulnerable, our baby! We feel it needs to be protected from the outside elements, i.e. other people’s opinions. But more often than not, they are right and we are wrong. Especially if ‘they’ is the teacher.

I may talk tough, but I have an immensely fragile ego when it comes to this stuff. I have the perfectly horrendous concoction of a massive discomfort with others’ reading my work and a nagging internal suspicion that I might be an untapped literary genius. So that’s great, that makes boothing super fun for me.

I was boothed last week, and I was the second in the group to go. My teacher, a bona fide comedy writer, isn’t too concerned with protecting us from harsh criticism and more concerned with giving us the tools to develop the best possible script we can. Which I do, genuinely appreciate. But when the woman in front of me had a particularly raw boothing, with a lot of critique and not a lot of praise, I started to worry. My name rolled around and I had to sit tight as someone else read my script aloud, and then wait for people to say what they thought. On the whole, the process wasn’t entirely that bad. I know the things I have to clarify and the things I can leave where they are (I was lucky enough to booth early on, so I know I’m not heading in the wrong direction). As nerve-racking as showing my work to the public will always be, I have to remind myself that isn’t that the real end goal here? To get good enough that people will want to read, or watch, or hear your work without the obligations of a classroom. That you will have created a world so rich and enticing that people will voluntarily leave their own present to join you there. And that’s pretty special.

I’ve Been Boothed

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This image does not represent the actual Booth, but rather the ~vibes~ of the Booth. The pens! The paper! The communal focus!

By Cary Chapman

I have officially entered the Booth and emerged unscathed.

Well, unless you count the bags under my eyes that I’ve not-quite managed to hide under layers of Tarte Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15. My Fiction I class ends at 10 pm, so by the time I get back home to suburbia, it’s past midnight and I don’t go to bed until 1 am. Then it’s rise and grind at 6:45, and by grind I am, naturally, referring to coffee.

But it’s so, so worth it. Last night a group of writerly peers critiqued the start of what I hope to turn into a novel. To condense rich and varied feedback to one sentence, my Gotham readers loved my witty, self-deprecating heroine and the little quips that made her voice unique, but they felt that some of the more contradictory details of her personality and background were unexplained and led to inconsistencies rather than the complexity I was aiming for. My fellow students put in the time and effort needed to craft thoughtful responses to my piece, and they expressed their critiques with the utmost courtesy. The result? I walked away feeling encouraged and positive about my writing, but also with some concrete advice on how to improve it moving forward.

I don’t even feel tired. That’s how energizing a writing community can be.

One woman came up to me and said that my writing style reminded her of a new book coming out today, The Regulars by Georgia Clark. Somehow this woman is connected through her job to the author because she handed me a glossy pink card advertising the launch event in Brooklyn tomorrow night. Someone else recommended a book, Re Jane by Patricia Park, based on my writing sample. Still another student engaged me in conversation about the potential audience for each of our pieces. I never expected people to be so willing to extend themselves in invitation, in recommendation, in sharing where their minds took them as they read. There we are on Monday nights, emerging for a few hours from the solitude of laptops and notebooks to connect with other writers in the special, genuine environment of a Gotham class.