"Are you doing anything with your MFA?"

7.19.2013

Hunter Fiction Writing Workshop, Spring 2010

Ahhhh, my least favorite question: "Are you still writing?"

Sure! Job descriptions, emails to candidates, LinkedIn status updates. I'm a recruiter. I was before I went to Hunter's Fiction MFA program and during and after. I love what I do for a living. But I also have an MFA from what I believe is the best creative writing program in New York City and yeah, I'll say it, the world (Iowa, schmiowa).

I'm super proud of my degree and my time there and equally, if not more, I am humbled by it. I drank with and studied under Booker Prize- and National Book Award-winning writers: Colum McCann ("Let the Great World Spin"), Peter Carey ("The True History of the Kelly Gang"), Nathan Englander ("What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank"), and Claire Messud ("The Emperor's Children"). I workshopped alongside classmates who have now published awesome fiction and/or have book deals on the way. These were WRITERS that I spent my New York City nights with. And I was a recruiter who spent my days hiding my shitty thesis word doc file underneath PDFs of resumes. For two years I was constantly worried that they would spot the fraud. Then we graduated: myself and the 5 classmates who were in my year, the people who I'd become closest to, the people who I had been the most vulnerable and naked around, my best friends and inspirations. And immediately I was really exposed.

Except it wasn't that dramatic in any way shape or form, even though it sure felt like that. They all had post-MFA writing plans. They were all headed to writer's colonies or were finishing a novel or were getting published in short fiction magazines and me? Stripped of my secret nighttime identity, I was back to being just a recruiter. Sure, they had day jobs too, but they were actual writers first and editors / coordinators / teachers second.

I moved to the west coast two weeks after graduation and whenever I talked to my classmates (which was daily for some time), I was reminded that they were writing and I was... re-watching The OC in it's entirety on Netflix while I ate $0.50 cent cans of Spaghetti-os for dinner and drank a LOT of Two Buck Chuck. I was broke and adjusting to my new life in SD and honestly? I needed a break from writing and the groupthink of Hunter to find my voice again.

Unfortunately that break turned into 3 years and soon it was hard to keep talking to my Hunter friends. The conversations we did have were spaced apart enough that asking me if I was writing anything was an acceptable question every time. It was also one that I wanted to avoid so badly that I eventually stopped talking to them almost altogether.

I started this blog in large part as a way to ease back into it. This is me, for six months strong now, toeing the writing waters. I've lost my touch, that much is evident. By touch I mean vocabulary, by evident I mean a reliance on adverbs and simple language. But for the most part, it's been the best way to start getting excited about writing again. And to practice discipline.

It's also been a way to take the pressure off. I think my biggest obstacle with writing was that I was so broke and so financially desperate and so utterly aware of it for so long living in Manhattan that writing seemed an impossible, financially-suicidal endeavor. I mean, there was a point in my life where at parties I'd wait until people were drunk enough to ask them how much they sold their book for or got for their essay. I was in a program where the writers believed the best, most ideal option was to pursue your writing full-time and that TERRIFIED me. If I was going to do that it had to be good, no, the best, because it was tied to income and thus, survival. I spent more time mentally strategizing how I could monetize a writing career than I did actually writing. That romantic notion was the most detrimental thing to happen to my love for writing and it took getting out of the city and becoming financially comfortable to destroy it.

Releasing the imaginary, looming burden of supporting myself with writing has been huge. I don't have to stress out about living in California, so far away from all the literary parties and readings I'd be tempted to network at. I don't have to turn up my nose at self-publishing or blogging for that matter because I'm worried of what "people" will think. So much of a relief that lately, I can't stop thinking about what I want to write as I find my voice again. Is it fiction? If so, a novel? Short stories? Screenplays? Is is non-fiction? Essays? Personal or cultural? Is it only this blog, but more and better? I'm an extremely collaborative person - is it working on something with other local San Diego bloggers? I don't know. But these are the questions that have been swirling around in my head for the past month or two.

I think it will be a while before I find my voice still and I'm trying hard to be OK with that and not think about how much more successful my friends are. I should clarify that being happy for them and proud of them has never been an issue: they are amazing and talented and wonderful people. It's not jealousy by any means because I believe they are deserving of their success. It's more like overwhelming and intimidating anxiety when I think of trying to accomplish what they have: publishing fiction under a major NYC publishing house. And the thing is, I don't even want that anymore. Which leads me to this post.

I want to do something with my MFA. I want to call myself a writer (by night) again and this time not feel like a fraud. I want to share my writing and mostly I want find a way to inspire people - whether it's to inspire them to move across the country or to chase what they love or to adopt a dog. I want to be proof that you can pursue a creative life successfully while being grounded in the real world where you still have to work a full time job. I don't want to lose writing from my life and most motivating of all? I don't want to have to answer this dreaded question from my kids in 20 years. Because worse than not being a writer anymore would be having to admit to them that I'm a quitter instead, right?
Jessica Green said...

Great post Brianne! I don't have an MFA (I'm getting my MA in Nonprofit Management at USD right now) but I have been writing for a long time and am just now feeling like I can call myself a writer - not because I'm good at it, but because I love doing it. I can relate to the pressure I put on myself and the anxiety it caused when I was trying to write to make money versus when I stop stressing and just let it happen.

Cece said...

I'm so jealous! I WISH I'd gotten my BA in Creative Writing (since a masters isn't in the card for me). Sounds amazing!!! And my dream is to go to a writers colony right now. I know it's tough to feel like you aren't living up to expectations. I totally get that. I didn't know you were a writer! And you ARE writer. I'm throwing that out there!! I like to call myself a writer too. I'm working on a novel right now and even though I only do about 15 pages a month It feels good to be DOING it. Start small. Figure out where you want to go and start doing it in your spare time. Don't worry about what will come out of it...just do it and see how it feels.

marshmallowsandmargaritas.com said...

I loved this post. I totally get that problem of comparing yourself to your friends, but their circumstances are totally different than yours. And the most important thing is that you do what you love, not what you think there is some external pressure on you to do.

marshmallowsandmargaritas.com said...

I loved this post. I totally get that problem of comparing yourself to your friends, but their circumstances are totally different than yours. And the most important thing is that you do what you love, not what you think there is some external pressure on you to do.

DESIGNED BY ADRIEN DESIGN
POWERED BY BLOGGER