10 Things My Creative Writing MFA Taught Me NOT To Do


 

DON’T…

1.     
Play
it safe
. Never play it safe. Writing is about taking risks. About
digging deep and uncovering the raw, sometimes painful pieces. When one takes
risks in their writing, the words on the page are alive and full of truth.

 

2.     
Assume
that just because one person hates your writing and the other person loves your
writing that your writing is “confusing” or “conflicted.”
Often
times having two different opinions on one piece of writing can be a very good
thing. As on of my professors says, “It means you have a very viable piece of
writing on your hands.” When people talk about your writing, argue over it,
dive into the mechanics of it, it means your writing is thought provoking, distinct,
and intelligent.

 

3.     
Feel
like you have to implement every suggestion into your work.
This relates
back to #2. If two people give you two different opinions regarding your
writing then guess what? Author’s choice. Or, if you’re receiving tons of
feedback—it’s up to you to sift out the good stuff, the stuff that resonates
with you. It’s not your job to take every suggestion and put it into your work.
The work can suffer if too many suggestions are considered. It can end up looking
like one of Frankenstein’s experiments.

 

4.     
Read
just for fun
. Well, reading should always be some degree of
fun, no? But as writers we should also read for the craft. We should read slowly,
read critically, read like writers.

 

5.     
Rush a
story.
Yes, sometimes stories flow right out of us. They come
quickly and whole. But other times they come slowly and in pieces. It’s okay to
start something, put it down, and go back to it when you’re ready to tackle it
again. It’s okay to put something down, forget about it, and go back to it with
fresh eyes. In fact, time away from work is always beneficial. “All this story
needs is time, dear,” one of my professors wisely assured me.

 

6.     
Be
competitive
. Working hard, being ambitious, being
persistent—these are all good things. But there is a line that can be crossed…
and the other side isn’t pretty. Some writers tend to compete with other writers.
There is no competition. We must be each others advocates. As I wrote in a post
a while ago
—it can actually be beneficial to share everything, to give everything
away. You may be surprised by just how much you get back

 

7.     
Follow
advice that doesn’t feel right
. Advice. It can be a blessing
or a detriment. Advice is only good when it feels right to you. Vague, I know.
But you feel that little tug, hear that little voice, and often times you know
that the advice you’re receiving is spot on. Or perhaps you were even thinking
the same thing yourself; you just needed to hear it from someone else. Advice isn’t
beneficial when you have to force yourself to take it and the whole time you’re
kicking and screaming, knowing in your gut that it isn’t suited to you or your
work.

 

8.     
Go at it
alone
. Surround yourself with people, friends, mentors who are
encouraging. Surround yourself with people who want to talk about writing, the
process, the trials and tribulations. Develop a writing community and hold on
to it. Banish the negative people—let them go. Call on your writer friends for
help with ideas, revisions, or just for a word of support. Be supportive back.
Meet often. Make writer dates a part of your life.

 

9.     
Assume
you have to save every piece of work.
Some stories are worth
letting go
. Some stories are “practice” stories, building blocks. They help us
grow as writers. One professor gave me great advice regarding this. She attested
to the fact that letting work go, killing darlings, can be brutal. So, she
suggested this: to keep a file with all the “lost work.” In this file you save
all your gems, your darlings, all those lost stories and lost paragraphs. “You
will use them,” she said. “Your unconscious will bring you back to them.” And
then, they are there, saved in a file word for word, if and when you need them.
Sometimes this file can be an inspiration bank, too. It’s filled with savings that
you can go to and read over to help spark a new piece of writing. Nothing is
ever wasted.

 

10.  Give up on yourself. EVER. We
all, at one point, feel like giving up. This writing thing is tough. It’s
crazy. It’s, as Cynthia Ozick says “…An act of courage.”  So be courageous. Believe in yourself.
Believe in your work, your vision, your ideas and dreams that need to find
their way to the page. No one else can write the story you want to write. So
you must write it then! It’s your purpose, your job, your calling.

 

“I write.
The longer I live, the more convinced I’ve become that I cultivate my truest
self in this one way.”

 

-Tom
Chiarella

 

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Kate Monahan:

Blog: Tapping
into the Wild

Twitter:
@MFACONFIDENTIAL

Or email
her at: kate.erogan@hotmail.com

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5 thoughts on “10 Things My Creative Writing MFA Taught Me NOT To Do

  1. Shawn

    Great list and sound advice. Number 10 rang a particular bell. It’s a daily drill in self-belief, isn’t it? But, I fall back to something my mother said to me when I was transitioning from being solely a musician to a writer and lagging in my self-confidence.

    "If you don’t write and share it, then you are withholding your gift from the world."

    Fits in nicely with what you wrote – "No one else can write the story you want to write."

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kate

    Kristan: Thank you! :)

    Rosie: I know what you mean… I think it is more about expanding the reading experience beyond the fun. There are some books out there that may not be so fun to read, but as writers we should try and plow through them and learn from them. Not every reading experience is equally pleasurable. I guess I was talking more about stretching ourselves as readers. But yes, in general we must absolutely enjoy reading in order to create enjoyable writing!

  3. Rosie

    I really like your list, but I can’t agree with number 4: Don’t read for fun. I agree that writers need to read slowly and critically, but I feel very strongly that a writer needs to enjoy reading to create enjoyable writing.

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