2017, Archives, November 2017, The MFA Years

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Photo credit: Henrique Simplicio

I’ve developed a complicated relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I’m super thankful for them. It’s not every day people ask you to write, much less read your work closely and give thoughtful feedback. Also, deadlines give me structure and keep me productive. On the other hand, getting bogged down is inevitable. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve gone through two workshops, and I have two more deadlines within the next month. I’m pretty sure I have writer’s fatigue.

What is writer’s fatigue? Is it a real thing? Well, no. I sort of made it up, but I think many writers in programs can relate.

Writer’s fatigue is as its name describes; it’s getting burnt out from back-to-back deadlines. I’m an incredibly slow writer. This probably has a lot to do with perfectionism and my terrible habit of editing as I write. I’ve also become accustomed to the short-and-sweet quarter system from my undergrad and MA days. Usually, a ten-week long workshop means only one or two writing deadlines. Since coming to Hopkins and enduring the semester system, I’ve been gradually (albeit begrudgingly) adjusting. We have three writing deadlines in four-week intervals. I’ve already got two down. My first workshop went pretty well because I had all summer to futz around. (And I truly believe futzing around is an essential part of my writing process.) Then, before my second workshop, I felt like I already used all my creative energy to write my first story, and I spent the next four weeks panicking. In short, my second workshop didn’t go as hot.

One way I’ve been coping with my self-diagnosed fatigue is revising. Fortunately, I have a few stories in the backburner, and it’s been therapeutic going back to old work. For one thing, I don’t really have to do a lot of world-building. These characters, their desires, their circumstances are already in place; I just need to reframe and break some bones. For another thing, it’s helping me to practice my revision skills. Revising is not something I’ve completely mastered yet, so in reworking this old story, I’m developing my own way of making my work better.

Also, I’ve been internalizing the fact that I don’t have to hit a homerun every time. It’s been helpful to remind myself even the strongest, most consequential writers suck sometimes. One of my mentors told me writing a book doesn’t teach you how to write a book; it’s still hard as hell even after the nth time.

On the whole, deadlines and being held accountable by talented writers is a good thing. It’s what’s so unique about the MFA. Nowhere else will you find such incredible pressure to write and have the determination to do it the best you can.