Kaytie M. Lee
May 2, 2005, 1:29 PM
Post #10 of 59
If you think the Minuet in G, you'll play the Minuet in G.
[In reply to]
Kaytie, how could you have learned it on your own? Reading alot and writing alot, I'm sure, but can you give me specifics? How much longer do you think it would have taken? [snip] Are you currently earning your living as a writer?
My experience is strictly prose--I'm not by any means a poet, though I enjoy poetry, so my comments should be viewed from a prose perspective, and specifically for fiction.
How could I have learned it on my own? For me (and I speak only for myself) the best thing about attending a program was learning to think about fiction and writing in a non-reading way. Rather than reading for pleasure, I learned to think about literature from the writer's perspective. A certain passage moves me--how and why? What did the author do or not do to evoke that response in me? I learned this by reading the work of others, most other students, but also in class discussions about published books.
When I said on my own, I should have been more specific--I do think that workshops (when structured and populated with serious readers and writers) are useful and at certain stages a necessity. Hearing how others see your work can be invaluable--there are a couple of threads going about that so I won't repeat here. But a good workshop outside of a college or university can be hard to find. So the MFA is a good way to lock down a community of a certain calibre where a writer can learn how to think about writing.
Here's a short list (quickly compiled) of what I learned in workshop that I could have learned on my own after much trial and error:
I could have discovered these little truths on my own, but I would have had to make mistakes and then catch them--hard to do when it's my own work.
- Dialogue usage--when it's too much, when it's not enough. That real-life conversations don't translate well straight to the page, and that if your story is more dialogue than anything else, it might be better told on stage. That exposition doesn't belong in dialogue.
- The danger of cleverness--cleverness can be annoying when it's everywhere, and is a poor substitute for depth.
- Story arcs--three-act structures, when to use and when to avoid them (in a general way, as each project is different)
- That old adages are adages for a reason--read your work out loud to edit; read a lot and write a lot, and the old "write what you know" all have elements of truth to them.
- That "write what you know" doesn't mean writing self-indulgent or autobiographical material, but rather it means to write from a place of empathy (example: you may not know exactly what it feels like to be president, but you may know what it's like to shoulder great responsibility, so use that experience to write the other.)
- I am separate from my work. I can't and won't please everyone. Everyone will have an opinion about my work, and will feel the need to tell me it after reading my work. People will give me conflicting comments about my work, comments that are valid but are so mutually exclusive that in the end I have to just pick and go with one.
- There are no rules. AKA There are always exceptions to rules. AKA There are people who successfully break rules all the time, but if I try, I better know what rules I'm breaking. AKA Each project will have its own set of rules because each story and novel is a new entity. Starting a new project is like starting the very first project--you don't know anything about it.
How long would it have taken on my own? That's hard to say--but I'm confident it would have taken quite a bit of public failure, since I'd have sent the work to editors and agents to look at and reject and that would have been my education. The benefit of taking risks in a workshop is that it's private. No one in the industry has to know about that failed narrative.
When I said I grew out of it, that's because I got to a point where I wanted to try my abilities outside the protection of a workshop. Knowing that other students and teachers will help make my writing better became a bit of a crutch. After grad school, I'm pretty much on my own, to continue learning, writing and hopefully selling my work.
As to your other question, I am not currently earning my living as a writer. I am finishing the last bit of my thesis (a novel) that I must turn in at the end of this month to get my degree. Prior to grad school I worked in product marketing as a technical writer and documentation specialist, and I am considering returning to that or something like it once the novel is finished--gotta pay those loans off. It will probably take me a while to earn money with my fiction, if it happens at all. There's no guarantee, is there? For my scant achievements, see my website linked in my signature.
PS I know I sound a bit like a know-it-all, but I'm not--I'm just someone with opinions and an internet connection. Hopefully this post answered your questions and clarified my previous statements. Happy Writing,
Kaytie M. Lee Last Updated November 2008