Reflections on a young writing career by an old ladyPosted: August 3, 2012
My regular readers know that I just spent the last two weeks taking the first classes toward earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University, in Gunnison. It was an intense two weeks. The first week and a half I put in time in the classroom, making my brain explore uncharted territory in order to learn about my own writing style and process, as well as reinforcing and renewing my knowledge of writing basics, such as dialog punctuation, story structure, plot and character. When not in class, I spent my time actually writing and reading the writing of my peers for critique the following day. The last three days, I attended the 2012 Writing the Rockies conference, as a part of my college credits. How cool is that? The intense pace didn’t really bother me until after I had returned home and gone back to work, but let me assure you that it did catch up to me. I have been exhausted all week, twice actually falling asleep with my laptop in my lap. I was that tired.
While considering whether or not to enroll in Western’s MFA program, there were many things to consider. Could I fit a two week residency in Gunnison each summer into my already bustling schedule? Could I commit the time that it would require to get my master’s degree and still fulfillment my obligations to my family as I have for the past thirty years? And what, exactly, did I hope to accomplish through seeking this degree? Did I think I would be magically transformed into a professional writer once I have that degree in my hand?
I had to do some sincere soul searching to find the answers to all my concerns. While I will surely have to do some rearrangement of my schedule to accommodate residency classes each summer, and I will have to forfeit certain activities that I enjoy in order to study and practice my craft and complete assignments, to me it will be worth it. My hope is that I will come away from this experience with credentials that will demonstrate that I’m not just someone who dabbles as a writer, but a serious author with at least one published book. I don’t expect this to happen through a magical transformation, but through hard work and lots of practice. In the end, it came down to one thing: I want to be a writer more than anything else in the world, so it would be worth whatever sacrifices I had to make to achieve that status. It is how I want to make my living, and I have played around enough at it. It is time to get serious and do what I aspire to do.
Now, with the first classes finished, I have to look at whether my expectations have been met, what I’ve already had to sacrifice, and whether it was worth it. In order to analyze all of this, I also need to examine what I actually learned, and evaluate its value to determine if the payoff is what I had expected. To that end, I thought I might share my thoughts and insights with you, my readers.
By looking at my current resume, you will see that I’ve already taken many steps toward my goal. I have written as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for the past three years, as well as keeping up this blog, Writing to be Read, for about five. In addition, I wrote gardening how-to articles for Demand Studios for over a year and a half, had two short stories published in Static Motion, an online publication, and a poem published in Dusk and Dawn magazine, where I made my first $5.00 as a writer, back in 1996. Another of my poems was featured by artist Mitch Barrett, in one of his paintings, Intimacy, which was displayed and sold at Kaleidoscope Gallery, in Batter Sea Park, London. My first children’s book, Heather Hummingbird Makes a New Friend, is scheduled to be released in October of 2012, by 4RV Publishing, as well. So, you see, I have a little bit of a head start on this writing thing, although none of it has paid enough for me to give up my day job.
So, did I come away with from these first classes with anything of value? I believe I did. For one thing, I gained insight into myself as a writer, aspects that I had never examined closely before. For instance, I discovered that I am a closet binge writer. I knew that I wasn’t much for planning, which is probably why I have not been able to make it beyond the short story format. Novels require planning and you have to truly know your characters to make your readers believe in them. Binge writers take an idea and run with it, and that is what I do a lot of the time. It seems that when I try to plan out what I’m going to write, it comes out flat and lifeless, as if the work were forced. So, this is one area that I definitely have to work on. That’s one thing that I learned.
I also learned many basic concepts that are sure to improve my writing style. In fact, they already have. Our assignment to write a novel excerpt in the western genre produced the beginnings of a story narrative, the likes of which, I did not realize that I was capable of. The class might be over, but my work to develop this story is only beginning. Two paragraphs in a genre we had never before written in lead to an epiphany about a YA story that I had written four or five years ago, which was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I had never done anything with it. The challenge to write in a new genre prompted me to try my hand at mystery, and it suddenly dawned on me that this story should have been a mystery to begin with. That’s what had been missing! The resulting two paragraphs featured the characters from the YA novel and read well enough to convince me it could work.
I gained knowledge about the writing business, as well. Some of the writing activities that I had engaged in, such as publishing with online sites that don’t pay, were cheating both myself and my profession. While I was glad just to have the writing credit, I could be setting myself up to have my work stolen, because it is out there where anyone can grab it. It may have been a mistake, but as a self-taught writer, I launched my writing career the only way that I knew how. I also learned that you really do need an agent, all the professional writers that we heard during class and conference agreed. The agent handles all the legalities of contract, which most writers are not qualified to do, unless prolific in contract law. The how of finding an agent promises to be revealed at a later date. And, I learned the differences between the large publishing houses and the smaller presses, and when to try for each.
In some ways, I had been doing the right things. I have always parked my butt in the chair and wrote, (a theme that had been reiterated over and over again during my brief educational introduction to the world of writing), blocking out the world around me for the sake of putting words to page. I found that although my dialog may set off alarms with spell check, it rings true and encourages reader “buy in”. I discovered that I had ability in areas that were previously untried for me, warranting continued exploration.
Above all, I learned how much I really don’t know. I look forward to exploring and discovering all that I still have left to learn, through Western’s MFA program. I can’t wait for my online classes to begin this fall. I think the payoff will be more than worth it.
To learn more about my work, visit my website at Kaye’s Literary Corner