"A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. " ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Do you know what you're getting yourself into? No, really. Do you?

To start with, I should confess: I don't know much about teaching, but I can list the qualities I would like a good creative writing teacher to have, if we must learn about writing. I'd much prefer a creative writing 'guide'. I for one, don't believe writing can be taught: you either have it or you don't.

At the most, a Creative Writing MFA can give you a structured life and a writing support system in the form of writing professors, a community of writers and your peers. It enforces a writer to do just that: write, no excuses. You can hope that the program you choose, and which ultimately accepts you has a program which is both flexible and whose instructors don't condition you into a predefined mold, encouraging you to diversify and experiment with your work. At least, that's what I would look for.

My reasons to apply for a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing are primarily a chance to focus on my craft solely and completely, to get that perspective and direction, focus and concentration. My intentions and reasons are, as you can see, quite pure. I don't want the glory and I'm not doing it for the publication (which is blurry as it is - no program guarantees you publication upon graduation. If you do get it, consider yourself lucky. It does however, stand to put you on the map). I want the knowledge of realizing that I've done something I set out to do, accomplished a personal ambition - the degree will be an extremely personal endeavor. Above all, I want the experience of working with like minded peers.

However, I do know what focusing exclusively on writing can do to you and I think it's quite normal to lose your mind. I know this, because I've experienced it. On multiple occasions. A friend tried to explain it by comparing it to a relationship: it's entirely one sided and you often don't get much in return. So you need to know what you're doing, going in and know that this will be the most demanding and taxing job you will ever commit to. Don't underestimate that. Above all, know that the pangs of loneliness you will feel now and again, are perpetual and they'll never end. Not when you're surrounded by friends and family, not even when you've met the undying love of your life, because inevitably, you'll be spending much of the time alone. Alone with your writing and your mind. It's one of the things that appeals to me about writing - that one can survive quite well on one's own - of course, you're human: you feel lonely, but eventually those pangs pass and you're writing again and everything just melts away.

So the MFA in Creative Writing program isn't a "how-to" guide for writing - it's for serious writers who want the structure, framework and time on which to focus on their craft - and working towards a goal, which in their everyday lives, they wouldn't get a chance to. Think of it like a retreat...away from home, from people, from the world and where you will be expected to be alone and write.

I know a lot of Sub-Continental (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani etc) writers who have pursued the MFA have used their perspectives once outside of their countries of origin, to write a more informed representation of their countries and the politics within. It does give you perspective after all.

I've been a prospective applicant and I've devoted the last four years to exclusive research on the program and all it entails and what it sets out to accomplish.

One thing though: writing? It isn't for the faint of heart. You have to be committed and have the heart to see it through, wherever your path takes you, whatever depths you have to plummet, and heights you need to scale to reach your destination.

Know that and you're all set. Have a great weekend!

Till my next post.

No comments: