Musings on the MFA

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A while ago I wrote a post about getting worse. About
thinking, really, that I was backtracking as a writer. I know now that the
feeling was a temporary one, one urged on by self-doubt and fear and all that
negative stuff. But at the time, I truly believed my writing was slowly
breaking apart and crumbling, that I was losing track, losing skill, reversing

Now, at the end of my MFA program I have to ask myself this
question: Am I any better? Unfortunately, there is no way to measure this. Is
there? I mean, if I had been receiving rejection after rejection and then
starting getting acceptance letters this may be a good barometer, but in truth
I wasn’t submitting much because I was busy with the work of the program,
focused on my writing and not yet on the publishing aspect. I could ask a
teacher, a mentor, and I’m sure they’d say, yes,
you’ve improved
. But isn’t an answer like this still subjective?

I think we know, though. I think we know deep down when
we’re getting better. It’s not a fact, no. It’s almost more of a confidence.
Sometimes you just write a story or even a sentence and you think look at me, there I go, I’m getting a hang
of this thing
. That’s not to say we should ever get cocky or too
comfortable, but as time passes we began to feel we getting a grasp on the
process, on the craft.

As I’m writing, I always feel like I’m looking through a
window, that I’m looking in at my stories. And that window used to be pretty
filmy. I could see through it, but not that clearly. I fumbled around, felt
less in control of my stories, didn’t quite understand what I was doing.I was just writing, pushing to the end and
then going back and doing my best to make the stories better. But now, well, I
guess you could say the window is clean. It is sparkling clean. I can see clearly
now and seeing clearly, understanding the process better, has allowed me to produce
stronger work. I can now see that underlayer, the architecture of the story, and
with improved confidence I’m eager to tackle it, shape it.I still let my characters lead me, but I don’t
let the story overtake me. I can tether my imagination during rewrites. I can
cut large chunks of stories without feeling bereft. I know when a voice isn’t
working, when a perspective isn’t working. I’ve studied others and can now use
those same critical skills with my own writing. I’ve peeled back the skin over
the last two years. I’m peering inside. Into the deep guts of it all.

So what does all this musing mean? It just means that I’m
more aware, more awake. That I’m writing for the love and fun of it, but with
craft at the forefront of my mind.This,
I think, means I have gotten a little bit better.I’m able to own what I put down on the page.
I guess it’s time and experience. And the MFA program gave me that. And it gave
me the opportunity to work with experts, masters, on a daily basis. They
cleaned the windows for me.They made me
take a deeper look by pointing things out—Look
here, see what you’ve done? And see this? Go back to that. Work harder here.
Ask yourself these questions.
Yes, they made me ask the questions.

Read a lot and write a lot. Can it really be that simple?
Maybe it can. And with a half dozen or so professors leading you through that
process and peers helping you and cheering you along the way (and ripping you
to shreds in the most productive way possible), the reading and writing
experience is simply more rich. Because ultimately it’s about this: having a
community behind you. Being a part of a writing community is essential. We talk
to each other, vent to each other, listen to each other, and teach each other.
It’s about working together to try and make this writing thing less of a mystery.
But then again, if it lost all its mystery—would we even continue doing it? In
the end it’s about the process, the exploration of that mystery, that makes it
wild.That makes it worth it.

perhaps the most important thing we can ever do in our lives is find a way to
keep the wild—both the wild inside and the wild outside us—and tap into it.”

Rivers Siddons

Kate Monahan:

Blog: Tapping
into the Wild


Or email
her at:


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