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.

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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.