As someone who’s been writing for as long as she can remember, Mia Marrero, senior creative writing major, said one of her biggest challenges when writing is trying not to think about others’ opinions.
“When you write something that you don't want to be writing, I feel like the reader can tell your heart isn’t in it,” Marrero said. “When you write what your heart is speaking, then people will appreciate that and know it’s coming from the heart.”
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Marrero attended Arizona State University for two years as an art major with a concentration in entertainment design. After missing home and her family, she transferred to Ball State. Because Ball State did not offer entertainment design, Marrero decided to major in telecommunications and minor in creative writing.
While she enjoyed her creative writing classes, Marrero said, she had reservations about switching her major to creative writing. However, it became one of the best decisions she’s ever made, she said, because writing allows her to be vulnerable. It’s healing for her to get her thoughts out on paper and create characters, she said.
“I really like the idea of writing down a story and having other people imagine it in their head with their own interpretations,” Marrero said. “I'm creating a whole world for them just with words, and I think that’s really cool.”
While writing can be private and personal, Marrero said, her mom and two best friends support her by reading her writing so she can gain a second opinion. Reading other people’s work in her classes has helped her improve her own writing style, she said, and the non-judgmental support from her peers has also been valuable.
As she continued her creative writing studies, Marrero had Pete Davis, assistant professor of English, as one of her professors. Davis said Marrero’s positivity, kindness and interest in his classes stood out to him.
“When I first met [Marrero], I felt like she was only writing one type of poetry,” Davis said. “Because I have had her over the past couple of years or so, she has really branched off and done a lot of interesting kinds of poems doing a wide variety of things. It’s great to see the enthusiasm that I feel like Mia has. I feel pretty certain she’ll be successful at whatever she wants to do in life.”
Marrero said Davis’ teaching style allowed her to feel free to write whatever she felt like writing, and his classes changed her perspective on writer’s block. Now, Marrero understands writer’s block happens when she is being pulled to write something she doesn’t want to write.
“Getting over that writer's block is not thinking of other people's opinions and writing what you want to write, and then your best work will appear out of that,” Marrero said.
In April, Marrero won the 2020 Ball State Excellence in Creative Writing for Fiction Award. Marrero submitted a story she wrote for a previous fiction writing class called “The Epithet of Duke.” Her story is about a boy named Holden, who was named after the character Holden Caulfield from “The Catcher in the Rye.” Because he hates that he is always compared to the character in the novel, Holden tries to change his name every day, and his family realizes the true meaning behind his name.
Sarah Domet, assistant professor of English and Marrero’s fiction writing instructor from this past spring, encouraged Marrero to submit her story for the award. After Marrero submitted her first story assignment for Domet’s class, she said, Domet encouraged her as a writer and “pushed [her] to the limits of what she could do.”
“I went into [Domet’s] class, and it was kind of intimidating,” Marrero said. “She was telling us how she’s published two novels, and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the dream.’ She was one of the first people to kind of pull me aside and be like, ‘Hey, this really shows promise and really speaks to people, so you should look into submitting for the writing award.’”
This semester, Marrero is the web editor in Domet’s immersive learning class producing Ball State’s national literary magazine, “The Broken Plate.”
“[Marrero’s writing] shows a higher mastery than one tends to see in undergraduate writing,” Domet said. “She's the kind of student that when she comes to class, she's not the most outspoken at first. She's a person who listens first and kind of assesses what's going on and then participates in a really meaningful way.”
Domet said she recommends students to seek out immersive learning experiences to not only put into practice what they've learned in the classroom, but also see how their studies might translate into a meaningful life beyond Ball State.
“It's interesting to take a student like Mia who's really strong in a traditional classroom and put her into a class like ‘The Broken Plate’ and see the way that she can really envision a path going forward now for herself in terms of a career,” Domet said. “If I were as strong of a writer as [Marrero] is when I was her age, I would have had a lot of swagger, but she has this humbleness about her, her talents and her abilities, and I think that's really admirable as well.”
Marrero said she is looking into the publishing industry as a possible career path after graduating in December, especially with her publishing experience at “The Broken Plate” and the ability to freelance remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Selfishly, it's a little hard to say goodbye to these standout students because we get to know them in the classroom, and they bring so much meaning to our work,” Domet said. “I think it's mostly pure joy and gratitude for having the ability to teach students like Mia and a little tiny bit of sadness saying goodbye to them.”
For Marrero, emphasizing characters in her writing has helped her as she has grown up enjoying seeing herself in books’ characters. Because Marrero’s coming-of-age story, “The Epithet of Duke,” doesn’t just cater to a certain group of people, she said, she hopes readers can see themselves in her characters.
“With us being in college, we are dealing with our own identities and that same phase of change and transformation,” Marrero said. “Writing things people can relate to is one of my biggest goals.”