R writes in...
I loved your Creative Writing MFA handbook. I found it really helpful throughout the application process. What made me buy your book was the grid on p. 59. I said anything that could give me a basic outline of how to organize my ten applications would be a big help to start.
What I want to ask you (and the MFA blog community) is after you sent out your applications and was waiting to hear about whether or not you were accepted, did you have trouble returning to your writing routine? I sent out my last of my applications about two weeks ago and I want to continue to write while I'm waiting to hear from these programs, but I'm having trouble doing so. I have signed up for an advanced novel writing course with an author I admire in order to either further prepare me for the MFA program I might start in the fall or for the next round of applications if I'm not accepted to any of the ten I applied to already. But it is taking a while for me to get focused. Did/does anyone else feel the same way?
So hard for me to remember ten years ago, but as I recall, I jumped right back into the writing. Likely because I had no idea whether I'd get in or not. I just loved the electricity in getting words down on the page. Still do!
I also love it. But that doesn't mean I am not having problems getting back into the flow of writing, but I think that is just what happens anytime you interrupt writing to focus on something else.
Or I think so anyway.
I am just stuffing myself full of good books recommended to me by a writer I admire. And I am forcing myself myself to write, but I am trying new genres and new styles. (i.e. I write fiction so now I am writing lyrical non-fiction.) I find it makes me be creative and keeps me thinking. Hopefully, I'll get back into the flow.
Whenever I feel fiction-blocked, I do some nonfiction freelance writing. Doesn't hurt to have extra ca$h and publication as a motivator :)
You can find possible assignments/magazine guidelines here:
Or search craigslist under 'writing jobs' for some possibilities.
Up until very recently, I was feeling pretty lousy and down after sending off the app's. I just wasn't feeling it. Part of the problem was that I was trying to graduate from my MA in English program last semester, so I couldn't do as much fiction writing as I wanted to. So, to a certain extent, I can relate to R, but I've somehow gotten back into it again (thankfully), and now I'm feeling much better. As one freelance writer just mentioned, writing for a friend's literary journalism/cultural criticism website has helped me get through the rough patch. If you asked me how I was faring two weeks ago, I would've told you terribly. But we just have to forge ahead--we have no choice, we must focus and put words on paper. There is no other way for me.
I've been trying to read a lot, as that was something that pushed aside during the application process. and to echo other posters, trying other genres has been a big help for me the past few weeks.
I can't write either. In fact, I don't even want to. I have all this anxiety about it. Like, if I don't get into any schools, then maybe I shouldn't be a writer anyway. I know that is a terrible thought, but I can't help thinking it. I have no alternate plans right now. I feel like my future hangs in the balance of these acceptance/rejection letters. Just the idea of putting words on paper makes my stomach turn--and since writing is the only thing that I really love doing, I am lost. Help?
If I could prescribe books as medication for this situation, they would be:
"On Writing" by Stephen King
"Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott
Don't let what happens with the MFA dictate your future or nonfuture as a writer. Remember, these programs didn't even EXIST while most of what is considered "great literature" was written, and many fabulous writers encountered multiple rejections from seemingly every corner. Furthermore, the majority of successful current fiction writers do not have MFAs.
I know sometimes it seems like an acceptance (or more!) to an MFA program would validate this career choice, but writing is something that ultimately has to be intrinsically motivated. Don't listen to the naysayers, especially the one called "doubt" that comes from within.
I -totally- agree with spillingink. I've been trying to make myself write on a daily basis, which so far has only made me feel extra guilty about the days I miss. So far I've been trying to read a lot more, and to do just a little bit of writing every day. Just a few thoughts, or observations, or even journal-type stuff. But I can definitely sympathize with the feeling that destiny and future hang in the balance!
For me it's more a matter of burnout. September through January was an intense period of refining my work, writing personal statements, hounding rec. letter writers, and sweating over USPS Delivery Confirmation notices.
So I gave myself a break. I have been writing some, but in the form of short short pieces that I forward on to a screenwriting pal to use in comedy sketches...silly stuff that's fun and lighthearted. I blog a bit, which I don't really count as writing writing, and that's about all I've done lately.
I guess what I mean is, we just went through a lot. No shame in finding a lack of concentration or a need to find peace elsewhere. You'll come back to your work refreshed and ready to go, no matter what happens with MFA apps. There's a whole big non-MFA world out there.
i think you have to make time to write within your daily routine. it has to be a priority if you want to get it done. stay optimistic and expect to have new work for your first set of classes. if you cannot concentrate...i suggest reading because it's the next best thing.
I think it's fine to take a break, if you need it. I did for a few weeks after I'd turned in my applications. But the longer you wait, the harder it gets to actually sit down and write something.
I suggest going back to an old or unfinished piece and editing, revising, or adding to it. That way, you don't have to conjure up all the inspiration that starting a new piece requires. (But I don't suggest going back to the pieces you submitted in your appication--that will only foster paranoia.)
You also could write a piece about how much it sucks waiting to hear from schools. It will be probably be crap that will never be of use to you or anyone--but the experience might be cathartic, and at least you'll be writing again.
Good luck getting back in the groove... and I hope the wait isn't too much longer for you (or for me)!
i agree with lucy - revise! and she's right in another thing: don't go back to the stuff you've already submitted or fixed up for your apps. we all have fragments or stuff that needed to be put aside for more exciting work. i find that sometimes the old stuff is really exciting when you go back to it. often the solution to a problem or challenge that made you put the piece down is now obvious. plus it's fun and really satisfying to finally finish something that's been sitting in a drawer for months or years.
I'm the opposite. I feel like because I sent out my best work with my applications, I have nothing good/new to bring into the workshop I (hopefully) will be attending in the fall. I found it hard to write during the application process, so now that all the applications are out, I'm ready to tackle writing prompts and ideas that have been sitting to the wayside.
But I think if you're in a block, reading new authors/material is a great place to start. Also consider picking up a book that has writing prompts for your genre.
My approach is that I don't have to have a finished product right away, so I'm going to use the next few months to freewrite so I have material to edit in the fall.
Another really great book is Unstuck by Jane Anne Staw. It's more aimed at long term blocked writers, but it's very helpful and encouraging to turn to when you doubt yourself. She thoroughly understands all my writing anxieties, and provides exercises and suggestions for getting past them.
I have been taking a break from writing and loving it. Applications were so intense, and I know school will be intense, so I see this as a time to ease up on the pressure on myself and just enjoy where I am. I've been going on a lot of long walks with my iPod, reading good books, listening to records & doing jigsaw puzzles, catching up on housework--I figure when I'm ready to jump back in, I will. Everyone needs a vacation. Writing isn't some hard and fast imperative; you can't force it. Anyone who applied to as many schools as most of us have has earned a break. Once I figure out where I'm going, I'm going to work on more stories.
Another thing--I totally agree with the suggestion to write something fun. It seems like whenever I'm really stuck on a story, I write something fun, not expecting it to turn into anything, and a lot of times it turns out better than what I was laboring over. It all has to do with how we put pressure on ourselves.
I agree with reading King's "On Writing"...it seems like he's sitting in your living room, talking to you...great voice, excellent book. And I've been writing fun stuff too. For the first few weeks I was freaking out about writing, not writing, writing the "wrong" things...ugh. Now I'm going the different genre direction as well. I'm making comic strips for my sister, working on a screenplay, doing some more "experimental" stuff. I find that after working on the fun stuff for a bit, I get motivated to work on my book again...which, of course, is also fun :) I'm tearing my hair out waiting to hear back from schools (I don't know what's wrong with these people who are staying calm!!!) but there really is...as much as I don't want to say it...nothing we can do about it now...except to continue doing what we love, and we know we are good at! So I'm righ there with you, and hope that you find a way to relax and get that pen back on the page!!! :)
You guys always have such good advice! I found a book called "The 3AM Epiphany" (by Brian Kitely)on my bookshelf. It has some pretty cool writing exercises, that if nothing else, are forcing me to create. I feel so much better now--even though I don't think I wrote anything good--but just knowing that something came out. yay!
caitlin: comic strips sound like a really fun thing to make. what is your sister doing with them? i want to make comics!
Writing letters helps me get back into the writing groove. I write them to friends, by hand (on paper! with a pen! no email!), then send them without revising, editing, or making a copy.
My friends love getting a hand-written letter, which in the age of email feels like a special treat, and I get to write to what I know will be a receptive audience.
Sometimes I am tempted to photocopy a letter before sending it, if it contains some concept or textual move I want to be able to revisit, but I resist. Copying one letter puts pressure on the next to be worthy of being copied, and undermines the "free" feeling of just writing to a pal.
Of course, I do tend to send the missives to people I am reasonably sure will treasure -- and therefore keep -- all of them. Nothing is lost... but even if it is, I have practiced my craft, and sent a gift to someone I love.
Sarah - I'm with you on the handwritten letters. I've been doing it for years and it is a great practice to keep up - and it really does help me slow down and get back into that writing groove.
I had the chance to work with Steve Goodwin from George Mason two years ago, and he made the point that in your fallow periods, do any kind of writing or creating you can. Even if you're just writing book reviews or recipes for that matter, any work or writing that you're able to do is worthy and worthwhile to keep you moving forward and keep you at the page.
I too felt a little tapped out after putting my application together. That only lasted about two weeks, however. Also during that time I was writing a lot for work,so I'm not sure if that was the reason I felt a bit tapped out, or if that was my way of continuing to write but without the pressure. Hard to explain what I mean by that except to say that in my work I write marketing material, press releases, etc which are creative but rather formulaic. I feel like I can do that kind of writing with my hands tied behind my back. Whereas the more literary writing that I am working on is harder. It takes putting myself out there emotionally.
making comics is just something my sister and i have always done for each other...she's going to NYU and i'm in florida, so we send 'em back and forth...originally it was just for fun (we'll make cartoons about being at work or me coming to NYC and us having adventures) but she's going to take an animation class at school and we're talking about a really cool idea for a cartoon. i'm good at drawing, but not amazing, and cartoons and comics are a fun and easy way to combine doodling and writing...and make my sister laugh her ass off :) you should try it!
I've been in a strange place creatively since about late November. I have a huge editing project (related essays) on my desk, and I've found that every time I approach it, I'm producing dribs and drabs of new stuff. "Oh, this will make a nice bridge between this and that..." But honest and true directed writing with an end goal in sight?
I'm as frozen as the pond in my backyard right now.
I feel the same was as spillingink, that if I don't get in I don't know what I'll do with myself.
But to battle the feeling of dread and prove to myself that I can write no matter what, I joined a JanNoWriMo community online and became obsessed with that for the entire month of January. It was a great way NOT to obssess over my MFA applications.
JanNo is a "Chris Baty NaNoWriMo style" competition where you promise to write at least 50,000 words of a first draft no matter how awful the prose. Yes, my prose during January was awful, but I was blissfully distracted by my need to write over 1600 words a night as well as keep up with the other members of the community and their progress.
Que sera sera, and I know that no matter what my MFA outcome is I will always be a writer. Therefore, my promise to myself is to stay out of the Poets&Writers boards no matter what happens!
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