This is the kind of beating nudging I need in the spiritless wake of the MFA


Dudes. I have discovered Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die.

You input your word count goal and allot the time for that goal (i.e., 200 words in 15 minutes…or 800 words in 30 minutes..etc., etc., etc.)

Depending on the mode you select, the penalties for not continuously typing include turning the screen red, the computer blaring Hanson (mmm bop!) at you, or downright deleting your words. The goal being that you type and type and type and turn OFF your internal editor.

After seeing my friends tweet their word counts using Dr. Wicked and making me feel like a pile of sludge for getting zero writing done, I gave it a shot. Peer pressure! And what the hell, right?

It worked. Internal editor off. I finally wrote and only hit backspace/delete twice! (Seriously, I sometimes end my writing sessions with FEWER words than I’ve begun with–due to my compulsive use of the backspace/delete key). Typing like the wind–speeding without care for form or technique. Typing like the wind, getting to the emotional guts of things.

I won’t be keeping every sentence I’ve written, but I know that some good stuff made it onto “paper” because it snuck past my sleeping/distracted Editor. Stuff that wouldn’t have made it onto the page had the Editor been vigilant. Because I was typing like the wind, running past the Editor, getting to the emotional guts of things.

I wonder sometimes, what the MFA has done to, and for, my writing. Mostly because I wonder where the raw emotion has gone. Certainly deep and raw emotion makes an appearance in my writing occasionally but for the most part I marvel at the sterility of my writing.

I was talking to a friend via IM the other day, a kick-ass writer with an MFA. “I think my pre-MFA writing had a spark to it that it doesn’t have now,” I wrote. She answered, “I was thinking the same thing.”

My “best” publishing credit pre-dates the time in my MFA program. My best writing, I think, has little to do with my MFA program. My best writing has come to me in some inspired burst. My best writing has gotten published and I know why. My best writing makes me feel lighter than air once I write it down. My best writing has rattled me to my core.

I have a deep hope that the spirit will return to my writing. I like to think that I learned technical aspects of writing in my MFA program, and I learned to edit (sooo many times I’ve been told that I’m an excellent editor–much to my chagrin, I think I’m a better editor than writer).

I like to think that one’s time in an MFA program might be similar to learning to play a piano–that you have to learn to play scales…and maybe the soul of the art might disappear, the gut instinct might disappear…but once you master technique, then the artistry comes back.

It’s an interesting balance: skill and art. You get accepted into an MFA program because the admissions committee spots that glow of art in you writing. And then you go through the MFA program to gain skill, maybe beat the art and emotion out of you. But then, but then, but then….the art from your core will return.

I hope I hope I hope.

I wonder how others feel about this.



Filed under MFA, Writing

5 responses to “This is the kind of beating nudging I need in the spiritless wake of the MFA

  1. Congrats on turning of the inner editor! Dr. Wicked sounds like a mini NaNoWriMo…or at least, a great tool to use during the NaNo event.

  2. e.

    Hah! I recently discovered Dr. Wicked, but have been too intimidated to use it. Him. (Now there’s an inner editor in need of a good beating.)

    JP, I’m now exactly halfway through a three-year MFA, and I feel my writing tightening up technically, not necessarily in a good way. I think the idea of Learning To Write is so appealing — the notion that studying craft will make my fiction “better” — that I seek out rules, tricks, tried and true avenues. I’m at the point now where I can do thrilling things with imitative technique… but there’s not much heart to my fiction at the moment. Story mechanics, I got. Something startling about which to write is another thing altogether. Everything’s tiny, subtle, too precious. Is this what they mean by “finding your voice”? Gah!

    Lately my instructors have been pushing me to get at the heart, and to experiment. Particularly in novel workshop, I am being encouraged to make a big fat mess. Perhaps Dr. Wicked can help.

    It is a fine art degree, after all, limited to teaching technique, just like acting or painting. The heart — true artistry, innovation — can only come from the individual.

    Sometimes I’ll write what I think is a pretty gutsy scene, and then I’ll read some rule-bending thing that’s really brilliant — Hemple or whomever — and I’m all despair.

  3. Eve

    What you wrote about spirit in writing resonates with me, for I just finished commenting similarly on my own blog. I feel that I’ve been wandering in a writer’s spiritless waste. I have a degree in professional writing, for all the good it did me (well, all right, so I am published)… but I know what you mean when you write that “My best writing makes me feel lighter than air once I write it down. My best writing has rattled me to my core.”

    It’s sometimes like having an out-of-body experience, being a writer and reading your own words and wondering how that came out of you.

  4. anonwupfan

    Totally. The best writing class I’ve taken, as far as student work, was an undergrad intro. Less tricks + more honesty=beautiful.

    You’re so lucky: editing is a skill, a talent, and a potential job! (NTM other people always remember the editors that published them, ALWAYS!) I can remember seeing certain people in workshop and thinking “Teacher” every time they opened their mouths, some people just find their niche. Embrace it JP!

    Me, I’ll be kicking it at the day job until I can get paid for writing lowbrow paperbacks, and then maybe.

  5. bloggingexperiments: I am guessing a lot of people found it useful during NaNoWriMo!

    e.: write on! keep writing. 🙂 I loved my MFA program but I did feel a bit taught how to dress (no stripes with polka dots..etc., etc.)–now is the time to learn which rules to bend!

    Eve: I still love the posts you wrote about your daughter. They were mindblowingly beautiful. I kind of wish you would submit them to Bellevue Literary Review!

    anonwupfan: I know, editing actually is a skill…but sometimes I wish I were a better WRITER and had a FRIEND who was the good editor! 😛

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