Last year at this time, I was struggling to pull together an application for the MFA program in Creative Writing at my local university before a January 1 deadline. Here’s a paragraph from my required Statement of Interest:
My life is chock-full of the ordinary. I haven’t meditated with the monks in the Himalayas – but with the men who stand in hip waders casting out again and again for spots and flounder along the Carolina shoreline while I inhale, exhale farther down the beach. I haven’t spoken or broken bread with the president of an emerging nation – but with the tow truck driver who hurries to change my flat tire on Thanksgiving so he can share take-out boneless spareribs with the three Chihuahuas barking in his truck. The 3 A.M. phone calls I get are from the Emergency Room, not the White House. Most lives contain basic, ordinary ingredients much like these. Combining the right ones well is the challenge for both living and writing.
I still think those last two sentences are pretty profound and ring true. I wouldn’t change them.
My big struggle/question – aside from trying to write something non-blow-worthy – was deciding whether to apply for the Fiction or the Creative Non-fiction concentration. What should I go for? Fiction? Creative Non-fiction? Fiction? Creative Non-fiction?
If I were applying now, a year later, there would be no hesitation: Fiction. I would go for Fiction, without a question. Without a doubt.
And so the year in review is really the story of my journey from there to here. What changed? How did I get from waffling over fiction vs. creative non-fiction (whatever that is) to the realization that I want to write fiction and even that I can write fiction?
Last year at this time I was afraid of my miniscule creative powers, of ‘real’ writing and myself. I liked to write, to describe the world as I saw it, but I didn’t think I had whatever it takes (what does it take?) to create believable, readable fiction. Creative non-fiction seemed less arrogant somehow – safer. Does that make sense?
I can report on what I observe, maybe embellish or expand on it a little bit, and it doesn’t seem to require so much elusive artistry as creating fiction does. It was less of a leap from what I already did as an academic researcher.
So I wrote Creative Non-fiction on my MFA application.
But that was December, and I was applying for a program that wouldn’t begin until the following September. I needed writing instruction and inspiration right away.
I enrolled in a creative writing course at the community college for the spring semester. I’d taken an earlier writing course there and had fun, and I thought this would help jump-start my writing.
And then something wonderful happened. The course was cancelled due to low enrollment. I was totally bummed out, and I turned, in desperation, to ed2go and signed up for Beginning Writers Workshop.
Bingo. Karma works in strange and mysterious ways sometimes.
It was just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing and to get me thinking – well, maybe more stuff was percolating in my brain than I had thought. And I started writing. A lot. I wrote about John and Martha, about candles. Bricolage. You know – you were there, too. I started to learn. I took that ‘eh’ story I used in my MFA application and turned it into something publishable, published it, and it’s now Chapter One of a much longer work-in-progress.
Elusive artistry? I’m learning that it’s more a matter of ‘butt glue,’ of sitting there and just writing. And then writing more.
By the time I got the rejection letter from the MFA program – the letter with the grammatical error, I might add – I didn’t even care. I don’t need another degree, I just want and need to write, and so that’s what I’ve been doing.
Besides, if I were a full-time student now, would I have had time to devote to National Novel Writing Month? I learned so much in November! Or to this blog? Or to my friends’ writing blogs and the rich insightful dialogues we’ve shared and will – I sincerely hope – continue to share?
So that’s how 2009 went. What am I hoping for in 2010? I have a couple of things in the hopper. I took a breather after NaNoWriMo and I am looking forward to reconnecting with what I started in November come January (that’s tomorrow!) There’s a lot of junk there, but there’s also some stuff that I’m eager to expand. I really like a couple of my characters – Libby and Reed – and I want to flesh them and their story out. I think they are worth it. There are some other characters I like as well, and if I can figure out how to tie all their stories together – well, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. It could be pretty interesting.
And I have my pre-NaNoWriMo work-in-progress. After I wrote that first chapter, some real-life spins came up that I never could have imagined, and I am looking forward to incorporating some of that silliness into the bigger picture.
I want to refine, expand, edit, and cut considerable deadwood out of both of these larger works, and I need to do quite a bit of research, particularly for my NaNoWriMo book, to get to something that I hope is viable. I think there’s plenty for me to do without branching out into new writing efforts – though of course I’m jotting down ideas as they dribble in.
I’d like to take another online writing course this spring, and would love to find a face-to-face writing group as well.
In all honesty, my MFA application portfolio could have been stronger, could have been better.
But I’m happy with the way things played out. Now let’s see what 2010 brings….