To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.
Below is Denise’s story.
I had written my first novel. I’d done it. A dream I’d had since childhood, shelved when a well-meaning teacher told me that writers were good at grammar and punctuation, two things I struggled with. I sent the book off to a few friends who I knew read a lot, one of them a writer herself. And then I waited.
When my writer friend returned notes to me, she gave me the rough but needed advice that maybe I should take a class. “There was a writing studio in Chicago where I took classes when I still lived there. StoryStudio Chicago? You should see if they have any classes you could take.”
My heart broke. I had yet to learn about revision, yet to learn that first drafts aren’t meant to be final drafts, that the work of writing (and revising and revising and revising) a novel can take years. I figured I’d get a few notes about grammar and punctuation, still hearing the echoes of that teacher from long ago, but that the story would be good. That my ideas would be good. That I was good.
I allowed myself a day or two to wallow and then took her advice. Scott Onak was teaching a basics class, and realizing my friend might have a point, I signed up. I went into that first class with something to prove. I knew I was meant to live my life in stories. I’d gotten my undergraduate degree in theatre and had been acting for a few years, so my life already revolved around storytelling. But now, I wanted to live out the writing dream I’d abandoned all those years ago. I just needed to figure out how.
I went into that first class with something to prove. I knew I was meant to live my life in stories. I’d gotten my undergraduate degree in theatre and had been acting for a few years, so my life already revolved around storytelling. But now, I wanted to live out the writing dream I’d abandoned all those years ago. I just needed to figure out how.
As a baby writer in that first class, I had no idea the creative journey I would go on with StoryStudio Chicago. That first class led to another, and another. I was still a broke actor, working gig to gig, so when I got an email from the studio looking for students interested in work-study, I signed up and took more classes. While I was experimenting with all kinds of writing, I knew my heart wanted to write books for young readers, so I signed up for one of the first novel-in-a-year classes with Juliet Bond, focused specifically on writing for children and young adults. In that year, I grew more than I could have imagined as a writer and drafted a novel that I used to get into grad school. A few months into my graduate studies, I started teaching at StoryStudio.
The novel I drafted in Juliet’s class all those years ago is now out on submission with publishers searching for a home. I’m teaching and coaching regularly with StoryStudio, and I lead a weekly class through the Chicago Stories Project in partnership with a local nonprofit. I’m finally living out my writing dream, and StoryStudio Chicago helped me get there.