I've been working on a new story for a week or two now, or for a few months depending on how you look at it. This is actually the third attempt I've made at corralling these particular ideas bouncing around my head into an actual narrative, and it feels like stonemasonry at this stage: as though I'm chipping away at some massive block of marble with this ill-advised yet inescapable conviction that inside it, somewhere, is my story.
For a while over this past year, as I've gotten more involved with writing workshops and the online author community, I thought maybe I could teach myself to be a plotter. If I only tried enough different ways of mapping out my scenes and arcs, surely one of them would latch onto my brain and rearrange it in some fairly critical ways. Like Yeerks or Cordyceps, only with productivity instead of mind control.
Turns out that did not work, and what I got for my trouble was a completed first draft I'm not super passionate about, and a handful of ~10k word ficlets that withered and died because I kept trying to force them to follow something they didn't want to follow.
So now I'm here again, having shaken up these same ideas and spilled them out onto the page for a third time, only now I'm falling back on the same process I used to write Scrapetown. The good news is, I've nailed down a regular writing practice, which means I know I can reduce my initial drafting time from about six months to more like three.
The bad news is, I also know I'll end up with a glorious and sprawling mess of a novel which will require about another year of revisions as I chip away further at the actual themes and the correct character arcs that will be hiding underneath the moss and debris of my first draft.
But, y'know, life lessons and all. The first step to doing the thing is accepting how you need to do the thing, even if it's not the way someone else does the thing. My process may not be as neat and clean as I wish it were, but at least I'm done hamstringing myself trying to change it.
So, I did it. After five years of noncommittal attempts to a.) decide whether I really wanted to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing (while, of course, constantly telling people that I was considering an MFA) and b.) justify to myself the various costs of a graduate degree in creative writing, I'm finally here. (Temporally speaking. Physically, I start this summer.)
Thing is, it took deciding that an MFA wasn't important to me as a writer to figure out why I still really wanted an MFA. I needed to know that I could (and would) continue writing even as I pursued a demanding day job; that I could publish without that shiny extra degree by my name; that I could seek out the tools to improve my work all by myself without the aid of a classroom or a mentor. I could, and I did, and so can you.
But maybe sometimes there is more, not for everyone but for some, and maybe that's okay. It's okay to want the MFA experience, to yearn for that tight-knit group of peers who are just as dedicated and as passionate as you. It's okay to want to be around other people who've spent years finding their authorial voices and who still understand the value of communal learning. Of course, you can find those people without going back to school, and I'm lucky enough to have done so—but if that's still not enough, well, there you go. Beyond that, it's okay to want the experience (not unique to grad school, but almost certainly easier to find through this path) of working with incredible published authors who are living the life you want to live.
So, yes. It took me a while to apply for my MFA because it took me a while to understand if I truly wanted one and why, and to feel... allowed, I suppose? Allowed to pursue something so obviously, unavoidably creative in its nature that only when I actually start talking to someone can I explain how writing is my way of improving the world?
But today I said yes to Stonecoast for their Popular Fiction program, and while I tried to write a few dumb jokes to close this out, I honestly could not be more excited and that sentiment is bleeding through my attempts like a knife wound of sincerity. All right, team. That's it. That's all I got. I'm stoked!
An assortment of impressions, anxieties, and positive mantras: