Thursday, August 6, 2009

Were You a Writer Today?

By Jennifer Brown

Writers write.  Am I a writer?  Well, not today.  And not yesterday either.  Did I burn out from the whole MFA application thing? Am I blocked?  Am I just lazy and waiting for school deadlines to kick my ass into gear?

You see, I’ve done very little work since I wrote the stories I submitted with my MFA applications.  I haven’t written what I would consider a full story at all since the apps.  I’ve completely re-written one of my application pieces in accordance with a workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and started submitting it.  And I’ve written two pieces of flash.  One of them is being published online with Clockwork Cat in the winter edition so I consider that a successful piece of work.  But I had great hopes for myself this summer that weren’t to be.  I quit my 50-hour a week stress-filled job a while ago, hoping to really get some writing done before school starts --- “really get some writing done” as in really write some new stories.  But aside from the two pieces of flash, it hasn’t happened.  A busy schedule didn’t exist to get in the way. . . so why?  Why aren’t I producing? 

I think the truth of the matter is that this whole MFA thing has me scared.  What if what I write isn’t good enough?  What if the students in my program or god forbid the professors look down on my work as “horror” (people sometimes describe it that way).  What if people think it is too flowery?  What if I got into school because my application stories were great but now I can’t do it again?  What if everything that I write from here on out just all-around sucks?  What if I write something and it isn’t perfect?

Ahhh, wait!  There it is!  What if it isn’t perfect.  There is the problem.  And I’m blogging about it here because I have a feeling that the I’m-Afraid-It-Won’t-Be-Perfect monster will plague more than a few of us as we begin to write work to share in our respective programs.  Sometimes I’m able to tell myself “0f course it won’t be perfect” and calm down and write, and sometimes I’m not able to do that. This subject is on my mind in part because of a wonderful quote fellow MFA Chronicles contributor Jonterri has on her Facebook page.  I think there is an antidote  to the I’m-Afraid-It-Won’t-Be-Perfect monster in there, so I’ll just quote it:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.

~Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille

Beautiful wisdom.  I think I’m unblocked and ready to enter my program with courage.  Thanks to that quote tomorrow morning I’ll be able to answer the question “Are you a writer today?” with a big yes.  I think I have a story in me that wants to get out --- even though it probably won’t come out perfect!  


  1. I could have written this word for word:
    "What if what I write isn’t good enough? What if the students in my program or god forbid the professors look down on my work as “horror” (people sometimes describe it that way). What if people think it is too flowery? What if I got into school because my application stories were great but now I can’t do it again? What if everything that I write from here on out just all-around sucks? What if I write something and it isn’t perfect?"

    Those are my fears! I was just telling someone that my biggest fears were that my application was as good as I'd ever be and that I'm just going to bomb in workshop and not be the person they think they admitted.

    And thank you for bringing attention to that quote because it makes me feel more alive every time I read it. It speaks directly to our fears and I'm glad you are motivated and that you shared that motivation because it makes me less afraid.

    Great post. And great pic with the post lol.

  2. I've been feeling similarly for the past year. Not writing much at all. But it occurred to me that, while it's nice to go into a program with something to hand in for the first round of workshopping, so as not to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year, it might be useful to write whatever I will hand in as a second piece once I get there.

    I've started to think that whatever I will write in a month or so after starting my program will be wildly different than what I might write today. Not better, necessarily, but very different. Moving to a new place, meeting new people, reading their work, and reading books in lit. classes, etc. will influence our writing. That's why we're going, right? So maybe there's something to be said for not beating ourselves up too much for taking a little time off and not writing as much as we feel we should. Or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better for not writing much at all this summer.

  3. I'm also having similar anxieties. The "Oh-God-What-If-No-One-Cares-About-What-I-Have-To-Say" afflicts me.

    I go by words on the page. I've put a lot of words down this summer. Are they perfect or publishable? No way. But there's something there to work with an revise and that is what is important.

  4. I have those fears, too. They're pretty crippling. And I haven't been writing this summer like I originally envisioned. I like how you opened this post, though. I'm going to say that to myself every day - "Are you a writer today?" and work hard to make my answer YES.

    Jennifer - your writing is AMAZING, I absolutely loved what you sent me. I don't think it's "horror" at all.

  5. Rawr. I don't think I've been a writer in nearly a year. After spending my holidays applying to schools, I pretty much stopped actively writing new stuff. The hard part was over, procrastination, and all that good stuff. Great post.

  6. During orientation weekend one of the professors in my program told us that we had to "give up the idea that you are the best writer in the room... and give up the idea that you are worst writer in the room." It is the best advice I've heard regarding the MFA.

    I think overcoming the desire to write perfectly all the time is something writers deal with forever, sadly.

    But, don't worry about your work being perfect. Don't bring perfect work to workshop. It's kind of pointless. If you don't have questions about your work or see room to grow, change and improve... then workshop is just a waste of everyone's time.

  7. too true! too true!

    you need a break before the MFA starts anyway. Just look at it that way :)

  8. I don't normally get taken by quotes, but I love the one that you've posted so much that I saved it.

    I think I get over my fear by being incredulous. If I were pursuing an MFA, I might tell myself "I couldn't possibly be the worst poet in this program... Could I?" hahaha

  9. I definitely have these fears too. I've gone through phases this summer of not writing at all, but I kind of feel like I needed to just enjoy my summer and be present in that place. Now I am ready to step forward and start the MFA.


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