Mar 17, 2008, 10:50 AM
Post #64 of 103
Re: [SaraBellum] Financial Assistance for MFA Programs
I'm interested in what you said about needing more time to write, in that you felt the increasing need to be extremely careful about what you put out there. Can you elaborate on that? Do you mean that you were surrounded by excellent writers and therefore were concerned with the quality of your ever word? Or...that you were afraid to experiment within the workshop? At first read, I gathered that you were treating the change in your writing "habits" as a positive thing...is that correct?
I guess the reason I'm asking is that I specifically applied to programs this year where I felt I would be encouraged to experiment a little...The last thing I want is to be streamlined in a workshop, or forced into a severely rigid writing style.
Good questions. I don't feel *at all* self-conscious about turning in crap (I do it often!). I attribute this in large part to the full funding scene. We don't feel competitive against each other, except artistically, I suppose, meaning we challenge each other to do more, do better, but we *definitely* don't compete with each other for instructors' attention, approval, or funding.
I don't intentionally turn in crap, by the way; I just realize it's crap well after the fact, after I've workshopped it and revised it and sat on it a while.
Yes, I do feel encouraged and free to experiment in Workshop, absolutely. Part of it is that there are several writers whose styles/voices are so distinct (in the best way)... I am going through the classic "struggle to find my voice" (yik) and having them as a resource for feedback and ideas as I develop this evolving piece is really inspiring. The result is that I flail more than I used to, because I know more about what's possible.
The opposite works, too; I learn as much, if not more, from writers in the program whose stuff I don't like, or don't think works. Finding out what I don't want to do is just as enlightening, and helps me be more deliberate when I start a new piece.
The other part of it is that studying craft -- the nuts and bolts -- has given me more freedom 'cause suddenly I have more crayons in my toybox. I'm gaining control of the subtleties that I used to blow right by. It's kind of like studying grammar; I have an ear for language and so never really bothered to study mechanics, since I was doing just fine. When I did study grammar, finally, it slowed me down temporarily because I had this new dynamic, a new voice in my head as I wrote that I consciously listened to. With practice, though, and in pretty short order, I internalized the rules of grammar and my writing became that much stronger.
Lord, it *is* Monday morning, isn't it?
So, my evolving writing process is actually a result of having more options; the more I study, the more I know, the more I can apply and the more control I ultimately have. Certainly a good thing, I think.
And what this has to do with financing is this: I'm already working more than fulltime, between course load and TAship. It's a vastly different kind of busy from undergrad (I have a BFA); it calls for intense, sustained focus. Maybe some superheroes with lots of room in their big brains can manage to hold outside jobs, but I can't imagine doing it *and getting out of the program what I came here for*. At this moment in my writing life, I need blocks of time to ruminate, write, and rewrite. I can't do it on the fly; I don't want to do it on the fly, that's what I've been doing for years. I see my pittance as the cost of "buying" that kind of focus time. (If I can string a couple of hours together on a Thursday morning, for example, I'm flying.)
Let me say, too, that it's taken a great deal of self-control, which isn't typically part of my repertoire, to turn down freelance clients. My God, it's tempting! Especially when we're struggling to pay the (gulp) heating bill. But I know myself; if I take an assignment I'll resent the hell out of the hours I put in, and get prickly and generally unpleasant, and it'll take me that much longer to write what I have to write for Workshop, never mind all the other stuff I want to write. I don't want to hate work, hate clients, hate school, and misbehave toward my family, and that's what would happen if I tried to work more than I am already.
MFA grads often talk about the exponential development they made as writers while in their programs. That's what I was looking for, and that's what I'm getting -- but for me, it takes sustained focus, which is pricey, but really feels luxurious.
Man, I'm lucky to be able to do this!
Ramble ramble, gotta split, hope this helps, thanks for the kind words, I'll answer more questions if you have them, good luck, peace!