Sunday, December 7, 2008


Probably the most useful thing you get out of an MFA program (in my opinion, at least) is that you are forced to set aside any illusions you had about writers being born with the skill, or that some people are just literary geniuses (and what goes along with that, unless you’re REALLY self deluded, is that you have to accept that this means you are not a genius, either).

This can be very difficult at first. I know it was for me. It wasn’t that I came into the program thinking of myself as a literary genius, not in those terms, certainly. But I did believe that some people were just naturally gifted, that writing was something you were either good at or you weren’t, and I, I believed, was one of the good ones.

But I almost immediately learned that the reason I had gotten to the level I was at was because I had spent my entire life, since I was old enough to spell, practicing; I just didn’t think of it as practice. And on top of that, the level I was at wasn’t good enough. I still had a long way to go.

These lessons sort of bombarded me, what with all of my peers in the program who were all just as good as me (and many of them were better), the quite large number of high quality submissions that got rejected from our literary journal, the amount of work I expected my students to put into their academic writing, watching how much those students would improve when they did put in the work (and how the ones who believed they were already perfect and refused to put the work in didn’t improve at all and often ended up behind the other students by the end of the semester) . . .

By the end of my first semester I knew two things for absolutely sure: that nobody was just born with the gift of writing, and that to become a good writer you have to work, work, work!

It’s hard work; it means spending a lot of time and effort on your writing and it means making sacrifices. Whether or not you are willing to put in that work (and especially after you realize that any ideas you may have had of one day making a living off of writing were also illusions, too, but I’ll talk about that some other time) is entirely up to you.

But the beauty of the MFA program is that, at least in my experience, you realize pretty quickly that making it as a writer is going to take work and that you have to commit to it or else you’re just wasting your time. And once you make that commitment, your life will never be the same.

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