A fellow writer friend of mine in the MFA program shared, a little churlishly, that he “takes this program like it is life or death.” He shared it as if it was a little ridiculous to do so, like he was doing something wrong. It does feel that serious often; just as often, I too feel silly for taking it that seriously – because there are worse things than someone saying what you wrote is only okay, that it didn’t really touch them. Just have a drink and write another draft, it’ll work out at some point.
But that’s too casual a way to look at it, at least for me. I can’t be “chill.” I’ve been told that I’m silly for holding on to the criticisms, that I should just let them go. And sure, don’t let the critics debilitate you – but you shouldn’t shake it all off. You should let it mold you; you should understand exactly what they’re saying and what they want and see if it’s helping you be the writer that you want to be. This life isn’t some fling; I want to tell a story whose sum is more than its parts. I can’t be the writer I want to be if I am so blasé about the outcome. In the past two weeks I have understood that I can and will and want to push myself hard. I want to get to the truth of something in my stories, probably a little past reason. To do that, I need to let go of the fear that I won’t be able to find that truth.
Ultimately, a writing program is just another a tool – not a guarantee. It’s there to give you some structure and to help you find people who are as crazy as you are, or who will ground you; either way, you will find people you trust. It’s there to help you decide what kind of writer you want to be. But showing up doesn’t guarantee growth. I don’t know if being a writer is an innate skill; for me, it isn’t. The moment I think it is – the moment I think I have learned all there is to learn, that I’m done, I will stop growing. That will be my peak, and it’s much too early for that. I have a love of language and books and stories and characters, but writing stories that live outside the page is a skill I have to work hard to develop.
More often than not, it’s your heart you’re laying out on the table when you share something you’ve created. I think it’s important to take that seriously. I think it’s important to care, and you shouldn’t feel ridiculous when you do.