Personal, Update

MFA Update and 5 Writing Tips

I just finished my sixth quarter at Lindenwood University. For those of you who don’t know, I’m working on an MFA in writing fiction. I can’t believe I only have two quarters left! If everything goes according to plan, I will be finished in March 2018.

Overall, my experiencing in the MFA program has been very positive. I think that I’ve grown so much as a writer, so I wanted to share some things with aspiring writers. Here are my five top tips for writers:

  1. Discipline is so important. It doesn’t matter that you have millions of great ideas if you never get them down on paper. It is a great idea to come up with a writing routine so that you get in the habit of writing every single day.
  2. Editing is crucial. No one’s first draft is perfect. Yes, publishers provide editors if they decide to take on your project, but it’s important to do your best so that you can even get to that point. Make sure you’ve done all you can to make your project the best before you send it out.
  3. Feedback is so helpful. You can’t objectively analyze your own writing. You just can’t. It’s so important to have a beta reader you can trust that will provide you with honest feedback of what isn’t working in your project.
  4. Rejection is unavoidable. Whether your peers hate your story in workshop or several publishers say no to you, every writer will face rejection at some point. In fact, rejection is going to happen a lot more than acceptance. If you want to be a successful writer, you’ve got to develop a thick skin. Don’t let rejection get you down. Let it inspire you to become a better writer.
  5. Conventions exist for a reason. Sure, rules can be broken, but most publishers won’t take a chance on something too experimental. There’s a reason that children’s books are shorter than adult books – children don’t have a long attention span. There’s a reason that most novels aren’t written in second person – it’s hard to sustain for longer projects. Have you noticed that most horror movies are exactly 90 minutes long? It’s difficult to create suspense and have escalating tension for much longer than that. Learn why the conventions exist in each genre before trying to break the rules.

I hope that these suggestions can be helpful to anyone reading this blog who is considering becoming a writer or sending things out to publishers. Writing can be discouraging – only about 4% of writers can live off what they make from their writing – but it’s also very rewarding to see your name in print. Honestly, I think that the process of writing is so enjoyable that it makes up for all the rejection and poor pay. Still, if you want to pursue writing, make sure you’re doing it because you love it and not because you think it will make you rich.

Thanks for reading!

-Tiffany

Personal

My MFA Experience So Far 

Well, my summer break is up! Two more classes start for me tomorrow (a novel chapter workshop and a contemporary poetry class). I’ve made it a quarter past the halfway point, and I’m on track to graduate in March, so I wanted to check in and write about my MFA experience so far.

I’ve been really pleased with my decision of choosing Lindenwood University for my MFA. I can complete the entire thing online, which is so ideal because I have a full time job and other time commitments. The work is still rigorous, but I’ve also loved that this school has been genre-friendly. We’re not just writing literary fiction. All genres are encouraged, as long as we’re writing well. The online format is also really conducive to workshopping. We’re able to critique each other’s writing online really well. I think that the fact that we’re not meeting face-to-face means that everyone is just more honest (and this is helpful because future publishers won’t spare our feelings).

I’ve grown a lot as a writer throughout this program already. Someone once told me that I’ll know I’m no longer an amateur when I start writing characters that are nothing like me. I thought this was silly advice at the time, but I completely understand it now. I feel like I’m finally able to start writing characters who have different personalities and experiences than myself because I am comfortable writing stories other than my own and I no longer need to be my own protagonist.

Throughout the past year, I’ve been struck with so many ideas for future novels (plus the one I’m currently writing for my thesis project). Lindenwood has just been so great at fostering creativity. Sure, like any school, there are pros and cons and professors I love and professors I really don’t like, but I can honestly say that I’ve grown as a writer and learned something about myself during every single class.

Pursing this degree has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I grow in confidence every day, and I’m ready to finally finish a novel that’s good enough for other people to read. Each day is a new step in my journey towards becoming a novelist, and if you’re reading this post, I just want to thank you for coming along for the ride and supporting me.

Thanks for reading,

Tiffany

Personal, Update

Life Update: Poem Published

Yellow Spiral Notebooks

I just wanted to thank Outcast Poetry for publishing my poem “Dreaming.” You can read it HERE if you’d like. It’s been about two years since I’ve had something published, which is definitely my fault. I went for a whole year and a half where I didn’t send anything out for submission. I went through a big slump! Part of this was because life was so busy and part of it was just due to being discouraged. I think discouragement is a big part of life for most writers because it’s hard to edit and send things out and get rejected over and over again.

Thankfully, since beginning my MFA program at Lindenwood University, I’ve been a lot more productive. I think I’ll do a whole post about my experiences there soon because it’s already impacted my life quite a bit.

Anyway, over the past two months, I’ve sent lots of things out to journals. Now, I’m waiting for those inevitable rejection letters and maybe another acceptance somewhere!

 

Personal

When Do I Count?

In this internet age, anyone can be anything. Are you a writer if you have a blog? Are you a photographer if you have an Instagram? Are you a visual artist if you have on online gallery of your paintings? When do you count as an artist and when are you just a hobbyist?

apple, coffee, computer

These are some questions that I’ve been pondering a lot. I think they’ve arisen for two reasons: 1. I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity as a writer because of being in a writing MFA program. 2. I’ve found myself comparing myself to others recently. I keep wondering if I’m more of a writer than someone else because my workshop story is getting better reviews or because I’ve had a few things published or because a certain number of people read my blog posts.

Ultimately, I’ve come to a few conclusions, but it really boils down to: Why do I care? I think that the fact that these are the questions that have been bothering me are just shedding light on the fact that I’m still really insecure in a lot of ways. I don’t have a novel published, but even when I do, I know there are tons of other authors who have had multiple novels published or have had wider critical acclaim. There will always be someone who is considered better or more successful.

I think the key to succeeding for me is to find a place within myself where I can just focus on creating what I want to create. I don’t want to be jealous of other authors – I want to celebrate them and their work (because I love books and I love reading!) So, I don’t need to be so worried about labels. Do I count as a writer? Sure, probably, maybe. Really, the label doesn’t matter and I’m sure everyone has a different definition of success for writers. So, I’m just going to try to rid myself of these questions by focusing on my writing instead of worrying about the general perception of me as a writer.

Personal

New School Quarter!

This week, I am starting a new quarter of my MFA program at Lindenwood University. I’ve really enjoyed my experience at the school so far, and I’m excited to start another quarter. It’s hard to believe that after this quarter, I’ll be half finished with the program!

I definitely feel like I’ve already grown a lot as a writer, and I’ve had so many great ideas for large products emerge from my work in the MFA courses. Sometimes, I worry that I have too many ideas! I just need to sit down and write something. I have been writing every day and things are coming along slowly but surely. I have fully outlined four large projects and I’ve started writing two of them. My biggest pitfall when writing is that I want to stop and edit each sentence after I’ve written it, and that leads to me getting frustrated and going nowhere. I want to just write the full drafts this time and the edit afterwards, but what if I spend months writing crap?

I wonder if accomplished writers have these same anxieties and hurdles to overcome or if they just create formulas and patterns that work for them. I hope I find out someday.

Update

Benefits of the MFA

Well, I’m back. I’ve been silent online for quite a while for a variety of reasons. First, until recently, I haven’t felt like myself. I’ve been a bit too sad to want to share much of myself with the rest of the world. But I feel like I’ve grown a lot during my online absence – I’ve learned I’m a lot more resilient than I thought, and that bodes well for me since the writing life is one filled with roadblocks and rejection.

Another reason for my lack of blogging is a happier one – I’ve been working on a Master’s of Fine Arts in writing from Lindenwood University. Whether or not MFA programs are beneficial to writers is a contentiously debated topic in the publishing world. For a long time, I didn’t know if it was the right path for me, but I definitely don’t regret it now that I’m involved.

One of the best aspects of the MFA program, in my experience, is the rigorous amount of writing that is expected. I literally HAVE to write even when I don’t feel like writing. And since my motivation was really low until recently, this has been a great thing for me. It’s teaching me discipline and reminding me that I don’t have to wait for inspiration in order to be creative.

Another beneficial aspect of the program is the fact that I’m getting constant feedback on my writing. My professors and peers have pointed out flaws in my writing that I couldn’t see when self-editing. It’s impossible to be objective when looking at your own writing, so it is invaluable to have an impartial set of eyes give you feedback. Sure, I haven’t agreed with all of the feedback because fiction is so subjective, but so much of it has been amazingly helpful. In the six months I’ve been in the program, I feel  like I’ve grown so much as a writer, and I hope to continue growing.

A lot of people criticize MFA programs because they believe it encourages formulaic writing. I can’t speak about other programs, but that absolutely hasn’t been the case during my program experience at Lindenwood. I’ve been encouraged to write whatever I want – in whatever genre I want. I’ve read very literary stories and stories from every genre from romance to YA to horror to absurdist science fiction to epic fantasy to mysteries. My classmates have strong, distinct voices and styles and this has been encouraged.

Other people criticize MFA programs because they are expensive ways to get feedback. This is true to an extent, but an MFA is also a terminal degree that enables one to  teach writing on a college level. So, the degree is not without its practical value for some. Still, for those who don’t desire to teach, an MFA program can still provide quality feedback. Sure, there are lots of free groups filled with amateurs and hobbyists that may even feature one or two professionals who may be willing to meet with you and give you feedback. I’ve been to some of these groups, and they are great for networking and moral support, but I didn’t find the feedback to be as intense or as insightful as I needed. With the MFA program, I’m growing exponentially faster than I think I would be in a casual writing group. So, I think the expense is worth it. This is an investment in myself, and I think it’s a risk that will pay off in the end.

Anyway, enough of my soapbox. There are lots of good arguments for and against MFA programs. I feel like this was the right decision for myself and I’m excited to share my experiences, but I’m sure there are lots of great writers who don’t need or want an MFA. Every writer’s journey is different, but I’m glad that this program is helping my goals feel a little bit closer.