Sunday, June 21, 2009


I’ve heard a lot of talk about how there is perhaps more inspiration for writing material outside of an MFA program, in that fabled “real world” everyone talks about. I imagine this is probably true, and in fact as I’m preparing to move to Ohio in a few weeks I’m going back and forth with what would be better for me: finding a good teaching job at one of the many community colleges in the area, or getting a regular job and stepping away from the very different world of academia for a while.

But I do think there is a lot of inspiration to be had in an MFA program, and for me a lot of that inspiration came from reading the work of my peers and instructors. All the other students in my program at UAF were absolutely amazing writers and most of them had very distinct styles from each other and from me. I think one of the most useful things you can do as a writer is expose yourself to a wide range of writing and experiment around with some of the things you see other people doing. This is different from just reading a lot, since in an MFA program you can then actually talk to and get feedback from the very people that inspired you.

In my program there were two people in particular whose work I was just blown away by and who as a result really inspired me to push myself to step out of my comfort zone and see what would happen if I tried this or that. (That’s not to say that I was only blown away by the work of two people; there were many people in the program whose writing really impressed me. But there are two in particular who really inspired me to experiment around with some of the things they were doing).

One was a fellow student, who is in my opinion the best writer in the program (or at least whose writing is my personal favorite) and who has this incredible ability to meld fantasy-type genre stories with absolutely amazingly well crafted, literary writing. The first workshop I had with her she submitted a story that everybody just fell in love with, myself included. It had a touch of magic and fairy tale-like fantasy but also very strong character and voice, and I was super inspired to try to experiment around with magic realism in my own writing – which has been very fun and I think has helped me move to the next level as a writer.

The other is an instructor in the program, award winning writer David Crouse, who in the very last workshop I took at UAF actually submitted his own work to be workshopped alongside the students. Not only was it super cool to get to workshop such a successful writer’s work at the same time as our own work, but I felt really inspired to push myself to be less, well, obvious in my writing. I’m well aware that my number one problem as a writer is that I’m often heavy handed and come right out and say things that it would be better to let the reader put together for him or herself, and when I saw how much it can work to, as he says, “withhold” more, I made an effort to try to work more on that in my work.

This is a different sort of inspiration, yes, than what people talk about when they say there is more inspiration in the real world than in an academic program. But it’s inspiration nonetheless and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

No comments: