It’s a new year and a new semester, and with it a new edition of Tips From the MFA Pit. For those not familiar, I teach in an MFA program and what you’ll read here is actual sage advice gleaned from all my years of passing on…my sage advice. This it to a student taking a course in finding their process and individual aesthetic, which loosely interpreted, is finding your own voice and writing methods. The first assignment is an opening essay, to which I’d offered this…
In your opening essay, you stated that your “writing used to be as habitual as brushing my teeth.” This is so true of young writers, and they see it as practice that sets them apart from their peers, as something wonderous and inspirational and unique unto themselves. Sometimes this “calling” seems otherworldly to us, as we almost feel compelled to put down our thoughts into words. It’s exhilarating and we do it as often as we could, and it’s from there that we know—we just know—we were destined to be writers and write great things. The trick is, as we get older and are confronted with demands of adult life, is to keep that magic alive, as we are straddling two very different world.
Part of that adult world is sending our work out for review, whether through the people we share it with, the classes we take, or through publication. What starts out primarily as something we do for ourselves morphs into messages we send out to the world, and from there we open ourselves up to scrutiny. This is never easy, as actually it’s quite a feat of bravery, to share this interior space with the world. But part of what makes writing so satisfying in the end is letting the outside into that interior world, and having them revel in it as much as you do is thrilling. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes the words don’t quite translate, sometimes the cerebral pictures we paint appear blurred. Of course, all writing is subjective, and everyone has their own opinions, but when too many of these opinions come out the same way, we’re forced to take another look. After all, we want to make sure our message is getting across, don’t we?
That’s when we have to assure ourselves that it’s always about the work, it’s never about you. It’s hard, because that’s when that magical feeling we felt in your youth hits up against the hard reality of the reading world. Truth is we all need editors, no matter how successful we get, and there’s proof enough of that is some of the rambling texts of major authors with no-edit clauses in their contracts. From this point we may no longer see our writing as fun as it used to be. Suddenly it becomes work, and that’s when our writing process starts to alter.
This is the hardest part. This is when we may be afraid to face that blank page because we become afraid of the reaction our work will get. But to counter this, we have to split our writer self into the parts: the writer/creator, the editor, and the publicist. The writer/creator just writes, just pounds those words out onto the page, verbal vomit, so to speak, the world be damned. The editor takes those words and refines them, adds and detracts, hones and polished. Then the publicist gets it ready for the markets, eyes it not as a literary creation but a product. Later on, this last task is relegated to an agent, and it’s sometimes the cruelest task of all. But if your want to get our voice out in the world, it’s the most necessary. But it also can’t exist without the first two, the two which allow the third to exist.