Creative Writing Master's Student Balances Program, Teaching & Family
Meet Nicholas Finch, a 25-year-old student in Saint Leo University's master's in creative writing degree program who also teaches middle school.
It's hard to cram a graduate degree program, a full-time teaching job and caring for a little one all into one schedule. But somehow Nicholas Finch manages to pull off this feat.
Originally from Whitchurch, England an hour west of London, the 25-year-old moved to the U.S. while still in high school. He went on to complete his high school education at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla.
Finch and his partner, Ann Marie, have a two-year-old son, Wallace, and a rescue dog. They currently reside in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"My mom is Puerto Rican," Finch explains. "When she moved back to the U.S., I came back with her. I started loving living in America right away."
Finch began his higher education career at the University of Tampa where he majored in English and writing. It was a former UT professor he had there who later convinced him to enroll with Saint Leo University.
"I had Dr. Steve Kistulentz there and volunteered in the residency program," he recalls.
He admits he was accepted into a few full-residency creative writing graduate programs and even started in one of them. But he just didn't feel comfortable.
"I was following Dr. Kistulenz on Facebook and knew about Saint Leo starting their new graduate degree program," he says. "He encouraged me to apply."
He joined Saint Leo University in the summer of 2018, enrolling in the university's creative writing graduate degree program. He chose the fiction track.
"With the full-residency programs, you pretty much can't work anywhere else and have to be totally committed and invested in them," he says. "I also wanted to start a family and it just wouldn't have been practical for me to be tied down with a program like that."
Finch admits he had some trepidation about enrolling in a low-residency degree program in which the coursework is primarily conducted online.
"Before starting this program, I had never taken an online course in my life," he says. "I admit I was a little hesitant because I'm not the most tech-savvy person, and the idea of an online degree program was fairly intimidating to me."
But thanks to the availability of his professors and the summer residency aspect where he has gotten to meet his instructors and classmates in person at University Campus, his concerns were quickly alleviated.
"I'd say I actually feel closer to my professors in this program than I did in traditional classroom-based programs I've been in."
A Variety of Instructors
He likes the unique backgrounds and viewpoints of each instructor.
"There's an understanding that each of my professors has a different skill set. This has led to an interesting balance in terms of the feedback I've gotten on my writing. This has been a great benefit because I've gotten a little different perspective out of every workshop and interaction with them."
He adds that each professor has worked with him to refine his reading list – just another unique aspect of how this program can be tailored to the needs and interests of each student rather than being a broad curriculum for everyone.
Each summer, students in this program gather at University Campus for one week. During this event, several accomplished authors are on hand to read from their work and offer advice to students on their respective writing projects.
"Some of the most exciting aspects of this program have been listening to these writers read from their work and the craft workshops they do. Hearing their stories about their life experiences as writers has been invaluable."
Getting to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson was a true thrill, he says.
"I actually shared a cheeseburger with him, which was a very interesting and unexpected experience," he says. "I had led a book club on one of his books when I used to work at a bookstore."
Connecting with his fellow students has also been a big perk.
"It's surprising how well you get to know the other students in just a week during the residency and through our online discussions," he says. "You really learn so much from your classmates."
Students must complete a book thesis project in their coursework. For Finch, he started out with a short story that he has expanded into a much longer project. The story is about two brothers in which one is left to care for the other brother's child and the drama that ensues from this situation. It is loosely based on his own personal experiences.
According to Finch, examining the syllabus for each course is integral to managing his time as a graduate student with a full plate.
"Most of the syllabi for my classes have a time breakdown as far as when assignments are due. So, I try to break it down even further and write a certain number of words each day or each week for the writing projects. This really helps me stay on track."
He adds that staying in touch with his instructors is also imperative.
"My professors are in constant communication with us. If I email one of them because I'm stuck on something, I know they will get back to me quickly."
He plans to complete the master's degree this summer.
Finch is currently a teacher at Incarnation Catholic School in Town 'n' Country in the Tampa area. He teaches both English and religion classes to mostly eighth graders but has some in sixth and seventh grades. He explains how he got interested in religion.
"I was baptized Catholic, but growing up, my parents didn't talk about religion too much," he explains. "As I got a little older, I started going to Mass with my mom. In high school, a coach encouraged me to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I also went through adult confirmation when my son was born."
In terms of his writing career, he has already had about 30 of his works published in smaller literary and online journals, among them short stories and poetry.
Some of these print publications have included Avis Mag, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Level Crossing and Haiku Journal.
He explains how he comes up with the ideas for his creative writing.
"It's threefold," he says. "When something happens that intrigues or confuses me and I don't have words for it, I immediately want to write about it and find the language to express it. Also, any time someone tells me a story and I retell it and people take the time to sit down and listen, then I want to share it with more people in writing. Finally, I like thinking about memories I have from my own life and preserving them in writing."
Despite his achievements as a young writer, he knows he can always get better at his craft.
"I want to keep getting better at it. With creative writing, I want to craft better sentences, more nuanced characters and find the best ways to perfect memories I already have in my mind."
He has some advice for anyone who wants to grow as a writer.
"No matter what stage you're at, don't be afraid to take risks. Don't be afraid to write a story that is solely yours because people out there just might be interested in reading it. When you start writing stories with a specific audience in mind, it can hold you back from expressing yourself as far as who you are as an individual. Also, don't be dissuaded by criticism because it's only going to make you a better writer in the end."
READ MORE: Check out one of Finch's works, "What They Give Children."
Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Nicholas Finch and is used with permission.