Writing is hard.
This won’t come as a shock to my many friends who are writers. Every day we look at the blank page with the terror that one might look at when facing down a velociraptor in a Jurassic Park movie. One of the early ones. Back before they had that Parks and Rec guy make them all cute and domesticated so we have dinosaur heroes instead of merely relying on whichever humans they manage to round up for the various sequels. I mean, of course it’s terrifying, what if you accidentally start a metaphor about velociraptors and don’t stop because you’re in too deep?
A few years ago, I joined an MFA program. For those who aren’t sure what that means, it’s a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction. I decided to go for it after a lot of thought and being in that odd space where I’m still not 100% what I want out of life. That whole failing at being a teacher thing hit me harder than I like to admit sometimes. I like to write. I enjoy writing. And I’m pretty good at Fiction. Diagnosed anxiety will do that: you get to come up with hundred if not thousands of fictitious scenarios where something bad might happen. As we speak, bears might be learning to communicate and will eventually rise up and destroy humanity.
Bearpocalypse, coming this summer from the makers of Sharknado.
I really do enjoy writing. Obviously, as I maintain this blog so I have to enjoy something about putting words on paper, even if it’s just the momentary joy of getting my thoughts on the page. But if I’m being honest, I’m learning a lot more from my MFA than I ever thought. It’s an interesting experience, and one that is a lot deeper than I originally thought. While I have learned something from my entire time in Graduate school, this is a wholly unique experience, one I wish I had sooner.
One of the things it has taught me is that I’m a lot better at accepting rejection than I originally thought. When you’re writing, you’re putting a piece of yourself on the page. Sure, I’ve never actually fought a bear as it communicated with its buddies about how best to eviscerate me, but there’s an overall feeling about me that I put on the page.
Sorry, the Bearpocalypse thing is in my head. Would they all gang up together? Would some of them care? There could be a whole sub-plot about how Alaskan Grizzlies care more than the Kodiak, who want humans to survive. This is rich text, people.
Oh, yes, the existential dread of writing.
No matter what you write: It’s part of you on the page. I just recently went though a good run of bad luck where I was rejected many, many times. First, a few pitches at a humor magazine I like got rejected: that’s fine, it’s happens. Then, I failed this contest with one of the best pieces of writing I felt I’ve ever done. Like, maybe not first place, but also I don’t feel it shouldn’t have gone as low as it did. Then a piece I enjoyed got rejected from a magazine I really wanted to get into. This all happened in the space of a week, so naturally, I was wondering if I even understood how writing worked at that point.
On the flip side of that, I realized after a few minutes of binge eating ice cream and watching We Bare Bears, is that I got rejected because I kept submitting stuff. That’s actually a really good thing. The only way to fail at something is to do it, and at least if you’re doing something you’re moving forward. So… here’s to failure, I guess. Beautiful, beautiful failure. You hurt, but at least you hurt in a good way, sometimes.
The other thing that I’m enjoying about the program is the fact that I’m surrounded by some wonderfully wonderful writers who won’t judge me for that weird sentence combination. Seriously, being workshopped originally felt like going to a firing squad, possibly staffed by bears? (Comedy comes in threes, babies!) You put your work out there and then ask people to judge it. I’m lucky I’m surrounded by a group of really cool people who want me to succeed, and as a result make sure I’ve written something wonderful. And here’s how you know I’m being serious: I’ve already been workshopped this semester. There’s nobody left to suck up to: This is a rare moment of being genuine, in between jokes about bear overlords. (Is four pushing it? I think four is pushing it.)
This experience has exposed me to a ton of different writing, and a ton of different writers, which I do feel is important. It’s important to read a lot, and to read stuff you normally wouldn’t. Your favorite writer could be hidden in a book abut your least favorite subject, you just have to know to look for it, and that’s awful. But once your grade kind of relies on you finding that writer, suddenly it’s pretty awesome.
I still have about a year (ish?) left on my MFA, and if I’m being honest, I have this weird combination of being ready to be done, but also wanting to stay in longer. Writing is a pretty difficult thing. It’s less difficult when you are surrounded by good people in a good environment.