This fifth interview in the Writers in the Trenches series is special to me. My goal, all along, has been to feature writers at all stages of their writing life, whether or not they have a list of publications to their credit — or even one. So, this week I talked to Kelly Esposito, who graduated from college just two years ago and is struggling to maintain a writing life. Like many young people, Kelly had to adjust to the “adult” world of working full-time and handling new responsibilities after college. While her childhood, high school years, and college classes gave her opportunities to enjoy and focus on creative writing, “real life” has made things a little tougher.
I first met Kelly when she was a junior enrolled in a Creative Nonfiction Writing seminar I taught at Lasell College. She impressed me with her willingness to “go there” in her work — she created a personal essay by writing letters to people in her life that revealed previously unspoken truths. When we workshopped her piece in class, some of her closest friends were surprised or even shocked at what she had gone through as a child. One friend turned to her and said, “Kelly, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry.”
We all used this opportunity to talk about how freeing creative nonfiction can be, because the “I” on the page isn’t exactly you, the writer. By turning our real-life experiences into stories and “fashioning texts” out of our experiences, we release those experiences in a way. The work becomes something outside of — and separate from — who we are. There is something very useful about that exercise as we learn to find and express new meaning through our stories.
When Kelly was a senior, we switched things up and worked on some fun fiction projects. I caught up with Kelly for this interview and asked her what those experiences were like for her, and how her writing life has been going since college.
Introducing Kelly Esposito!
FRD: How old are you now, Kelly, and when did you start taking writing seriously?
KE: I’m 23 years old, soon to be 24! I am young, but honestly, I feel like a grandma. Working full-time really takes a lot out of a person. Honestly, I can’t really tell you when I started to take writing seriously. I can tell you the first thing I wrote was Jonas Brothers (every middle-school girl’s dream band/guy) Fanfiction when I was in sixth grade. I didn’t have access to a computer, either, so it was all hand-written in a journal with orange pages. Not my best work, of course, but it all started there. So I guess it’s sort of a fluid answer? Because yes, in sixth grade when I sat down with a pencil at my dining room table I was serious. The writing, not so much. I probably didn’t start writing any sort of “original” work until late middle school/early high school?
FRD: When we first met, you were a junior in college taking a seminar in creative nonfiction writing. During that semester you developed a personal essay about some of the most painful aspects of your childhood. You had some very close friends in the class, and even they didn’t know about some of the things you revealed. How did you find the courage to write about your past, and what tips would you have for someone who might be afraid to do that?
KE: When I got the assignment for the personal essay, I had no idea what I was going to write about. Not one. And I of course, wanted to do something other than just sit down and write a typical five-paragraph essay. Living with Gaby (who was also a student in your class, and one of the most talented and creative people I know), there was also an un-talked about competition. Not so much to be better than one another, but in terms of who could be more creative. That, combined with not wanting to disappoint one of my favorite professors, there was a lot of pressure. So much pressure I almost gave up and just wrote a typical essay about who knows what.
One night I was sitting in my dorm, with Gaby, probably a tad bit depressed (because you know, you can’t control when that happens) and we were whining about not being sure what to do. And through our whining, somehow, I came up with writing letters. To myself, to my parents, to my friends; to everyone really. Once I had that idea, it came from there. I moved from the common room, to my tiny little dorm single, sat at my desk, put on some music, and wrote. That was it. I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I didn’t think. It was a personal memoir, so I decided to get really personal with it. There were a lot of things that I had held in for so many years, and getting it out on paper was such a relief for me. I was tired of being afraid to speak about my struggles and what I had been through.
In terms of advice, honestly, I am not sure. I don’t even know how I had the courage to do it. I guess I was just sort of tired of keeping it all in. So, I guess my best advice would just be to go for it? For me it was a release of a lot of emotions I’d been bottling up. And even if it’s not shared with a class, or the world, or whatever, it is still nice to feel better.
FRD: Was there anything positive for you about putting those experiences down on paper?
KE: Absolutely!!! I cannot talk enough about how good it felt to let out secrets I had been keeping for years. Things that not even my therapist knew. I just felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The things I wrote about in my essay are now things that I can talk more about openly, and I can finally start to heal from them. That’s probably the best thing I have taken from it.
FRD: We worked together throughout your senior year on two fiction capstone projects. The first was about a journalist and her mobster husband. Your characters really came to life on the page. How did you invent those characters and become so invested in them?
KE: Oh, Jeez. They came into creation so long ago with a friend of mine; this also probably dates back to around early high school. My friend (Stacey) and I
were super into anime, and mainly the anime “Naruto.” And Naruto is this whole world with many different characters; I wanted that. Not the same thing, but something that amazing. Naruto, though it’s not a typical story, was the first series I was really invested in, if I’m being honest; it was the first story that made me feel things for the characters and the world, and like I said before, I wanted that.
So, we came up with these characters. From that point on we wrote back and forth to one another, developing the characters from 2D things that our 13-year-old minds made up to full-fledged, well-rounded characters. Katia, for example, has come so far over the years, and to this day, I am still learning about her. When we did that capstone project, she developed more – all of them did. These characters have been in my head since I was 13, and I still have a very deep love for them. There’s a lot of them, and sometimes it’s hard to forget that they do need to be well-rounded, but one day I hope to be able to publish a story with them. They’ve helped me a lot.
FRD: Which do you prefer, creative nonfiction or fiction writing?
KE: Honestly, I would probably have to say fiction. Sorry, Faye!!! Not that I dislike creative nonfiction, I just have more fun writing fiction.
FRD: There’s nothing to be sorry about! Both are wonderful genres, and each offers something different for the writer and the reader. So, you’ve been out of college for two years now. Tell us about the transition from college to moving back home, getting a job, and starting life as an “adult.” What was that like for you, and how did it affect your writing?
KE: Oh God, I miss college. The yearning to go back isn’t so bad anymore, but every once and awhile I get a pang of sadness. Everything was so close, and in reality, there were very few responsibilities compared to the real world. Transitioning was hard, and it still is. When I graduated, I went to work for my uncle like I planned, but when September rolled around and I wasn’t going back to school, that is when the difficulty came in. I dealt with that the way any 21-year-old woman would and went from black hair to blonde hair. And…I went back to therapy. Therapy is still ongoing, but it’s made things a lot easier.
In terms of my writing, well, it’s been impacted negatively. To be honest, I haven’t been writing much at all. I go through little spurts, but other than that, nothing much. I find working 9-hour days, 5 days a week (constantly talking to people and literally being the complaint department), has taken a toll on my creativity. By the time I get home from work, my brain is fried, and I can’t find it in me to sit down and concentrate the way I used to. So, yeah, not much is going on here in Clinton, CT besides work and saving for a house.
I am trying very hard to get back into it. Now that my therapist recommended I start anti-depressants, I am finding that the creativity is coming back to me. Now, I just need to find the time and the passion for writing again. I’ll get there, I’m sure, right now I am just figuring out how.
FRD: I am sure you will, Kelly, and I look forward to reading your work when you do. Do you have any advice for young people who, like you, want to keep writing during the years when you have so many new responsibilities?
KE: CARVE. OUT. TIME.
Something I didn’t do when I first graduated was carve out time for writing when I should have, so I fell out of the habit. And now getting back into the habit…not so easy. Even if it’s once a week that you sit down for 10 minutes, take the time. Set a goal for that 10 minutes, because if you don’t, you won’t write. Ever. It’s time for me to start carving out time again. I miss writing.
FRD: That’s good advice for any writer struggling to make it happen at any age or any stage. Thank you, Kelly! It’s always been a pleasure working with you, and this interview is no exception!