My summer program experience boosted my confidence as a writer

October 16, 2022 — by Anamika Anand
Photo by Anamika Anand
I spent my summer days extensively writing, but it was all worth it.
I stayed away from home for over a month, and it wasn’t as terrifying as I anticipated.

I never thought I’d travel far away from the comforts of my home to share a dorm with complete strangers for weeks just for a summer program — at least not before college — but life never goes as expected.

On July 9, my dad and I drove to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles for the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) program. This was the second program I went to after the 2-week program at the School of the New York Times (SoNYT). 

CSSSA is a rigorous month-long program that offers animation, theater, dance, film, music, visual arts and writing classes. After applying for the competitive Creative Writing department, I was shocked that I got in. More importantly, I was afraid to step so far out of my comfort zone, but I knew not to let such an opportunity slip out of my fingers. 

When I first arrived at the program, I was most curious to see what my roommates would be like. In my mind, I jokingly imagined the worst possible situation: My roommates would know each other beforehand and I would become the third wheel. Thankfully, that could never happen, right? 

I walked into the dorm to see both beds setup with matching Kawaii plush pillows. I instantly knew something was horribly wrong — somehow a brilliant stroke of bad luck hit me right on the head: Sure enough, both my roommates had known each other since they were 5. 

Later, seeing my dad walking to the parking lot and having not befriended anyone yet, I felt a lump in my throat. Other than doubting my writing, I was also afraid to be left alone because of my fear of socializing with strangers. But there was no turning back. After all, the most important thing about going to this program was the writing aspect, so I told myself to suck it up and move on.

During the next day, we had our orientation, where the four Creative Writing teachers introduced themselves to us and each talked about the specific genre they would teach. 

Creative Writing is a very versatile genre, and CSSSA did a great job of covering a wide range of writing types. Each student got to do fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenwriting for one week each as our morning class. But we also had an afternoon class that we had to pick among the four genres to focus on for all four weeks. My choice was fiction, and I could confidently say it was the one of the best choices I made in CSSSA — second to my genius decision of taking dinner back to my dorm each evening so I wouldn’t have to hurriedly eat it in the cafeteria, which closed at the obnoxiously early time of 6:30. 

I also developed a weird interest in the psychology of serial killers, and a lot of my stories incorporated dark, sinister characters: One of my fiction pieces was a short story that explored the miniscule yet revealing actions of a budding serial killer. 

This piece was chosen for CSSSA’s first writing showcase, where the selected students got to read out their work to the whole department. While it was a bit nerve wracking to read my writing to so many people, getting picked to read felt like a confirmation that I deserved to be there. 

Curriculum-wise, going from doing little creative writing during the school year to writing so much in a short amount of time came as a shock to my system. Daily, after I finished six hours of class, I would get back to my dorm and watch some Netflix while snacking before starting again on the writing due the next day. It was quite exhausting but helped me build up a steady routine. 

Dorm life was interesting, to say the least. My roommates and I shared a bathroom with three other girls in a neighboring dorm and we made a group chat to let each other know who was showering when. Unfortunately, everything could be heard pretty clearly from the bathroom, so it was a bit awkward the first few days. 

However, my original fear of third-wheeling my roommates quickly faded. I became close to both my roommates, who were incredibly sweet and never excluded me. Moreover, all three of us were in Creative Writing and gave feedback to each other. I had a lot of fun with one of my roommates in particular thanks to our similar music taste and serial killer documentary obsessions. On the last night of CSSSA, all three of us decorated and signed tote bags and made bracelets as tokens of our time together. 

Apart from classes and life in the dorms, the food was decent and varied, although the occasional “interesting” choices of lasagna soup or taco soup were ones I stayed far away from.  Unfortunately, or maybe not, I also developed a donut addiction. Every morning, I would stash away one or two donuts for my afternoon snack. This obsession became a long-running joke between my roommates and me, and one of them still texts me every time something donut-related comes up in her life. 

In retrospect, CSSSA required a lot of academic work, but it also provided a more socially relaxing environment where I was also able to befriend many talented writers, many of whom I’m still in touch with. 

Although I wouldn’t say that CSSSA was as life-changing as comments I previously read had promised, I gained self-validation as a writer and my writing was able to prompt a long discussion from my peers and teachers. I’m really grateful for the experience I had, as it has instilled in me a drive to keep writing, even if it’s only something I come back to every once in a while.

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