This past Thursday I learned that I have finally completed the course requirements of a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing from UC Berkeley Extension. I am thrilled as it is hard painful labor of years. Now, most will have a nonchalant reaction to my big news. So, let me explain first about the writing certificate and then its importance to me. I will cover the non-emotional aspect first.
UC Berkeley Extension on its website writes: “For aspiring writers serious about their craft, the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing is ideal. Formalize your training and prepare for graduate study in writing with this certificate developed with directors of several San Francisco Bay Area M.F.A. programs and approved by the University of California, Berkeley, English Department. Develop a regular writing practice, build your writing portfolio, and gain a credential that shows your commitment.”
Basically, you register for the certificate and you need to complete a required number of courses in five years. Years ago when I registered for the certificate, I needed to take 7 writing courses—2 required, 2 Literature, and 3 writing workshop. Today the requirement is 8 writing courses—3 required, 2 Literature, and 3 writing workshop.
UC Berkeley Extension offers both online and in-person class rooms. Instructors are actually interested in teaching instead of just going through the motions of teaching. Online classes are tedious but depending on the instructor can be very engaging. Yes, it seems like I am a paid spokesperson, but I am just a satisfied student.
Moreover, UC Berkeley Extension’s writing program was very accommodating to my needs. When I feared that I might not be able to complete all the courses within my deadline, the Program Director Liz McDonough suggested that if needed students can ask for an extension of time. Thanks to my husband (oh, to explain that I need to write another post.) I was able to finish all my classes in time.
Now the most important aspect of this post—the importance of the writing certificate to me. Months ago when I was slogging my ass by taking two writing courses simultaneously, I vented about my pain to a member (who was kind-of a friend) of my writing club. This person who is at least 25 years older than me, asked me what do I hope to gain by the certificate. He kept on insisting that taking the certificate is a waste of time. He indicated that writing classes in general are a waste. I wanted to call him an ignorant ass. But then I am not that type of person. Then few weeks ago, when I had completed all the coursework, another fool of my writing club grilled me about the logic of the certificate. This person is some 35 years older than me. There are few more who questioned my reasoning, but if I list every incident, this post will be tremendously long.
All this questioning made me wonder if I did the right thing by chasing the writing certificate. Was the age gap the reason these published writers questioned me? Or did I have no understanding about the reasons of the certificate?
I have a bachelors and a master’s degree, so I find it highly unlikely that I will take my old-bones to back to school to do a M.F.A. So UC Berkeley extension’s selling point doesn’t fit me.
My problem has always been that I couldn’t write. Here are the most important highlights of me not being able to write. In high school in India, during the English exam when I was supposed to write an essay for ‘my favorite vacation,’ instead I wrote the essay that I had memorized earlier ‘my best friend.’ During my undergrad in architecture, when in the architecture-history exam the question specified “don’t sketch, write the answer,” I sketched and labeled every part of the sketch. During my work at C. P. Kukreja in Delhi, I would ask my immediate boss—a Harvard graduate, to write one line captions for all my sketches and presentations. For years, I would ask my then boyfriend, now my husband, to read and check the content of my emails. I just couldn’t write.
I could have taken the writing classes without registering for the certificate. (BTW the registration cost itself is $150.) But then first, I would not have continued taking the classes. Second, I would have taken only those course that I felt I could do. Because to the certificate, I had to step out of my comfort zone again and aging. The required courses helped me understand the basic craft of writing–active and passive voice, art of reading others’ work, and accepting that I cannot please every reader. During one of the writing workshop I discovered that I can write a poem. Agreed, my poems are childish, but nonetheless they are poems.
I never contemplated writing fiction; I always believed that I just don’t have the imagination and creativity for fiction. After all, I not like others who have been writing since their childhood. So, over the years I had concentered all my efforts in learning to write memoirs.
My biggest apprehension was the Literature classes. I knew that class would need me to write fiction. So, I avoided them until the last minute. But one literature class changed the course of my writing. During the literature class, for the first time I wrote fiction. I actually liked the plot and the characters I had created. Encourage by my writing and my instructor’s feedback, I enrolled in my first fiction class. Every moment in that I class I dreaded the upcoming assignment. I questioned if I was really capable to come up with new fiction scenarios every week. But somehow I did. Soon after I started tapping into my hidden potential. I realized that for me fiction writing is less emotional draining than memoir writing.
Today, I have a basic idea of a longer fiction work. I still lack absolute confidence, but I am going to work towards that. I find that I am happy when I write fiction. It gives me the same feeling I get when I design. It is another form of creativity. And none of this would have been possible had I not registered for the writing certificate. BTW, I really hope that the naysayers read this post. I can email them this link, but then I am not that kind-of person.