Thursday, May 7, 2015

MFA Year One: A Retrospective

I've heard people say that if you can't remember who you were as a writer when you started grad school, then you're doing it right. You shouldn't remember what genre you signed up for or who your favorite writer is. Everything is probably a massive jumble in your mind and your world should be turned upside down. At least, that's been my experience.

With my first year of graduate school behind me, I'd like to take a moment to look back and see how far I've traveled since I started this journey in August. In many ways, this experience has given me what I expected it would - a supportive and inspiring writing community, new ways to think about writing, and basically a full immersion into this strange and exciting writing world. But it has also opened my world up in ways that I hadn't imagined.

I've been able to meet people who have dedicated themselves to their art and made me believe that this dream is possible. They have given me a direction in which to point my arrow. My professors and schoolwork have shown me what kind of writer I am in terms of content, style, routine. But they have also forced me to blow all that to pieces and see what happens when the dust settles. My teachers have given me points of entry into the craft that preserve its sacredness but also embrace the ever changing, ever flowing process of creating meaningful art.

A few accomplishments from the past year:
  • Survived first year of taking graduate level courses
  • Survived first year of teaching at the college level
  • Kept up this blog! (40 posts and 2400 page views since August!)
  • Read and studied nearly 50 books in depth
  • Created a writing space in my home and some semblance of a writing routine
  • Produced four major writing project - two creative nonfiction, one children's lit, and one fiction
  • Helped many students in the writing studio
  • Rocked AWP in all of its crazy glory
  • Planned a body-based writing retreat
  • Worked closely with a private client to write her autobiography
  • Got accepted into the Art Farm artist residency for a month this summer!
  • Birthed my thesis project idea :)
There is still a lot to look forward to. Here are a few goals for the next year:
  • Finish the first draft for my middle grade novel by the end of the summer
  • Get published in a notable literary magazine
  • Develop a solid writing routine
  • Explore other writing opportunities such as ghostwriting, journalistic articles, etc
As with any apprenticeship, the learning never ends. Even after these three years are over, I will still be a student of writing, as I am still learning new things about growing vegetables and baking bread. But I have learned some things about myself as a writer, like I will always be a genre hopper. I can't just choose one! I also understand a bit better what a writer's life looks like, from the glamorous side to the tough truth that most writers cannot make a living simply off of selling books.

Which brings me to the major questions any aspiring writer should ask themselves before starting down this road in earnest -- Why do you want to be a writer? Will you be happy if you never have your book turned into a blockbuster movie? What is your overall goal as a writer/artist? How badly do you want this?

Because being a writer is hard in ways that other things I have done, like farming, are not. Being a writer means contending with inner demons, uncertainty, doubt and rejection on a daily basis. Being a writer means being your own cheerleader because no one else cares if you're writing or not. Being a writer means saying no to other things in order to spend hours at the writing desk, doing the unglamorous work of putting words in the page, one by one. Arranging them in such a way that they will tell a story worth reading, maybe even a story that will speak to others. That's the hope, anyway.