I’ve had a good while to think about what to write and share with you guys about being in the MFA thus far. The last time I wrote it was about how I was adjusting after the first month since my undergrad. It was hectic, and sometimes it still is, however I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it.
My professors are still insane, I’ve become a bit more sociable with my classmates, and I make sure that I got to school three hours early.
Because, quite frankly, the transportation system cannot be trusted.
This I firmly believe.
Otherwise, I’ve learned some things that I thought I might share with you, both regarding my experience as a student and as a writer in these last few weeks.
One: Getting a job is difficult.
I mean, unbelievably so. I had the hardest time just trying to get a job washing dishes, and I’ve done that for three years in a dining hall! For there being so many jobs out there, it’s ridiculous. But I did find one eventually which isn’t bad at all. It’s only part time working with admin and quite frankly, the people are wonderful. I often try to consider what I want to do with my degree in the future and I wouldn’t mind the idea of working at a college. That’s what most do with an MFA nowadays and it’s not such a bad idea. I think it’d be a fun experience and I’d get to interact with people on a daily basis. Plus, talking to other writers about what they’re working on and exchanging ideas can never go wrong. Usually.
Anyway, the last couple of weeks I’ve been through levels of hell and back. The transportation system will always be a pain, but I’ve continued to enjoy my class, and that’s what counts.
For a while I kept saying (in my head) that I would try this out for a year and if I didn’t like it or couldn’t handle it, then I would quit. I, too, have had my doubts about my decision to continue my education. Graduate school isn’t cheap. But if you think about it in terms of experience, then I’ve gained a lot more than I would have on my own. I’ve met several authors, mostly poets, and they’re not what expected. I suppose I had this childlike idea that professional writers were like how you saw teachers in middle school. They taught and went home, taught and went home, until you saw them at the grocery store with their significant other. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting David Ryan (Fiction author/Editor of Post Road Magazine) and Nick Flynn (Poet/Author/Musician). They blow away my expectations and that childlike perception. They’re actually really laid back…it’s almost scary. Almost. Mostly it’s funny and genuinely writers today are pretty cool.
We don’t bite, I swear.
Three: The idea that maturity is best and that it’s required is a no brainer for writers.
Taking classes here has made me grow up, in a sense. This is what we need, both as individuals and as writers. It’s especially important with our writing. As writers we have to face the reality that it’s going to take a while for us to get as good as we’d like to see. There are a lot of talented writers out there, many of which are probably better than we are. But the point is that we keep trying, we keep writing because no one writes the way we do. No one sees the world the way we do, and that is something no one can take from you.
And let them be damned if they ever try.
Four: What You Take
The idea that everything has been done is undeniable, but the ability to make the experience unique is incredible. That is what we do as writers. I’ve learned tons of things that have helped me in the last month from Resistance (why we can’t write) to Defamiliarization (making familiar stories unique). They changed my perception and my focus regarding what is important in the text. There is more to a piece of writing then getting a good story across. You have to ask: Are the characters believable? Is the dialogue authentic? Am I giving enough information? Is the conflict coming in too soon? There’s also the question of rhythm, tone and mood being expressed. A million things go into your writing.
Five: Writing Process
When you write, I’ve been told that we tend to write as if we are telling ourselves a story. We write the first draft and we focus on who’s going to read it. Usually, it’s someone like you–the writer. Editing, the second phase, is the time where you stop that idea, stomp it into the ground, smack it a couple times as you hoist it into the air and throw it out the window. You get rid of it and become objective, maybe take a week away from the piece and come back to it with new expectations or ideas. Writing is a never ending process and sometimes even the best of us need an outside perspective. Distancing yourself from a piece, taking a break from it is never bad. Work on something else in the meantime. I was told by my professor that having more than one piece to work on at a time is never a bad thing. It just means you have ideas.
And you can never go wrong with too many ideas.
The MFA program has made me realize that I can’t do this on my own. I need to have a group of people, hell even one person, to help me see the best and the worst in my work. I take a workshop class once a week and all we do is talk about two classmates’ works. We sit for two hours in a classroom discussing what works and what needs improvement in their manuscript. Everyone has a perspective, a way of reading, a way of picking details out that not everyone else can see, even you as a writer. Having this group has helped me better my writing, narrow down what I want to say and be clearer for my reader. Because although we are trying to fulfill this innate desire to write, we are really doing all of this for just one person to read our work.
Six: The Ultimate Goal
Realize that we’re doing this for our future readers.
To You Reading This
I guess some might say “This should be obvious to you because you’re a writer.”
Sometimes, however, it needs to be seen in action. Words aren’t the only way people learn, even I know that, and words are my life. The point I want to make is that for me, the MFA has been a great learning experience. Maybe I could have learned all of this on my own in a library, and that’s fine, too. But this was my decision.
I only ask that you take from it what you will and be the best writer you can dream up.
I plan on sharing some of what I learned in another post, so look forward to it in two weeks time.
See you soon.