What does the little “a” do, and why is the big “A” always yelling? These would be my first questions, I joked frequently when asked exactly what was I hoping to learn at 50 by starting an MFA. Half way through my first semester, I have abandoned these two questions (because, between us, I already knew the answers,) but now have a million more.
Some questions are specifically about the craft of writing. I wonder, for example, how can I rework the draft novel I pumped out last year during NaNoWriMo and turn it into something worthwhile? I’ve had parts of the novel read twice now by my teacher and cohort in my fiction class, and my writing just seems to get more muddled. Or should I, perhaps, just set it aside and focus on my non-fiction? (The answer to that is, probably, yes.)
And what about everything I am writing for the class “What We Write About When We Write About Love” which is now growing to a sizeable body of work? In this class, we are assigned two 250-words pieces each week on any topic as long as it is broadly touches on love. I, well, love this class. And, more importantly, I love the format. But what can I actually do with a series of 250-word pieces? (The answer to that is, likely, a lot.)
And then there is my memoir class where – although I’ve been working on an actual manuscript for a while now – we are focusing on in-class assignments, which are generating an entirely new body of work. These are not only stories I hadn’t thought to begin; they are often ones I hadn’t even fully realized could exist. The prompts we get are so well thought through that little story bubbles pop up from the depths of my soul like a pot of water on the brink of boiling. What becomes of these new pieces of writing? (The answer to that is almost certainly, a second memoir.)
But the bigger questions are the ones that make me both the most excited and the most nervous. I’m honing my skills and, so far, I have the sense from my instructors that they genuinely feel I have potential. While I still have a lot to learn, I know I am in the right place. But the big looming scary-as-shit question is really this one: How will I be able to sustain my life as a writer full-time? (The answer to this is entirely unclear.)
Being in school for two years is an absolute luxury, as I am not yet expected to make a profit from my writing. I would like to, and I am already laying the groundwork to move in that direction, but writing definitely is not yet paying my bills, at least not creative writing. Technical writing about public health actually is, but that isn’t nearly as much fun.
In another year, I plan to take a practicum on how to teach writing and, with luck, that will open other opportunities for earning money through writing, albeit as a teacher, not actually as a writer. But I think this could be a good fit. In my last career I wrote curricula and led countless sessions as a trainer on HIV awareness. While public health is an entirely different beast than freshman composition, it is still the world of learning, and that is a world I enjoy. I hope that my previous years of experience will have prepared me well for teaching in a more academic setting.
Until then, however, I keep pondering projects I can work on that might eventually be published. So far I have four in mind. All would fall in the category of memoir, all of varying lengths, and all still to be written or at least completed. I’m also sending out more short pieces on a regular basis and continuing to enter contests. It is safe to say that the ideas are flowing in abundance thanks to being in this environment, surrounded by other writers. I continue to pinch myself and consider how truly fortunate I am to be here.
And so, each week, I continue to submit my homework and longer pieces for workshops. I read the works of other students and learn to be a more discerning reader, editor and, in turn, a better writer. I read the books assigned by our instructors and learn from those who have already been published about how it is done. And I think about how I am going to make this work in the long term, how I will truly become a full-time writer. (The answer to this is that I will simply keep writing.)