I’ve just finished reading another article about the benefits -but mostly the hindrances- of MFA qualifications (US). These articles usually discuss whether the time and money spent on a writing degree is worthy of having special letters after your name, that in all honesty won’t earn you any more money in the big wide world. Because I’ve returned to university this year to major in creative writing and psychology, I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt about tertiary study and how it applies to my writing.
The last time I was at uni I was still bound by perfectionism and considered anything under a High Distinction a fail. I didn’t apply this ridiculous scale of worthiness to anyone but myself, and even though I completely understood and agreed with the adage, ‘C’s get degrees’, there was no way I could embrace it for myself. This time however, I’m a little more balanced in my approach, and what I’m prepared to sacrifice for a grade.
We moved house in the middle of the trimester and not surprisingly I fell behind in my study schedule. I handed in work that I wasn’t entirely pleased with, and found myself having to cram before exams, and Oh my God, I survived! The world didn’t implode and amazingly, a big loser sign didn’t appear on my forehead. What a revelation to live in the world of “that’ll do”, a magical land of shrugged shoulders, where distinctions aren’t shameful. I moved this lesson into my writing.
Writing lore states that there is no such thing as the perfect book. No book has ever been written without typos, or issues that need tidying. I realised I was trying to finish a novel with a perfection mindset and that meant the novel could never be published, it would never be done.
MY TAKE HOME-
There are times when near enough must be good enough, and novel writing is one of them.
The next light bulb moment arrived for me while I was
over-thinking analysing an essay question. It was a creative question yet all I felt was angst. I found myself saying things like…
“I wish they’d just tell me what they want me to write, and then I’ll just write it.”
Then a bold new idea floated into my head, what if I wrote what I wanted to write, and left the analysing and over-thinking to them? This was a huge revelation for me. I’d spent much of my time following the writing Rules (note the capital). Writing Rules are not about grammar, but more about a social enforcement of ‘how it should be done’ if you wish to call yourself a writer. Once I was free of the Rules, a new surety and confidence in my own work arrived.
If I am writing only what others want to hear, or only what the Rules tell me I should, I am effectively drowning my own voice. What is the point of writing, if I’m only a puppet?
MY TAKE HOME-
Writing Rules are only guidelines and following other’s creative ideas dilutes my writing voice.
So, to MFA or not? Degrees, Masters, Doctorates?
These questions don’t mean a lot to me and tertiary education is yet to teach me anything new about the actual craft of writing.
Yet while studying, I’m learning about myself and my creative processes, and that’s worth so much more than letters after my name, or extra dollars in my bank account.