Originally posted at Breathe Writer’s Conference:
When I began applying for MFA programs in Creative Writing, I knew I needed a serious kick in the pants. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my output came in pitiful spurts and dribbles. I was that kid who daydreams of winning an Olympic medal, but stumbles gasping and wheezing through the first mile.
Stamina. I needed to build some writing stamina.
Now, a semester into this MFA writing deal, I feel stronger as a writer, more prepared for the marathon of the writing life. Here are three writing truths that are moving from head knowledge to muscle-memory for me.
1.Your muse is a fickle creature who shows up for work like once in a blue moon. So ditch her.
Too many times I’ve waited for inspiration to strike before beginning a project. Too often I’ve left a project unfinished when inspiration ran dry. But that doesn’t work when professors and classmates are expecting new material. Over the course of the semester, I’ve written and revised three chapters of a novel, two short stories, and a picture book. Much of the time, I was already tired from a day of prepping lesson plans, grading essays, or editing documents. I didn’t have the luxury of writing only when I felt mentally in the groove—I had deadlines to meet!
You may not have teachers to give you deadlines, but give yourself some or ask others to. (Hint: Find a venue for publication and see what their submission deadlines are.) Because good writing can and must happen with or without your muse.
2. It’s okay to write a big messy pile of words.
I haven’t yet reached the point where words flow confidently from my fingertips to the page in lyrical sentences. My first drafts are like middle schoolers—awkward and badly dressed. This means revising will involve painful chopping of large chunks of prose (Hey, I spent a lot of time writing that!) plus a lot of reshaping and polishing of what’s left. The final product will look very unlike the sentences I first typed.
Give yourself permission to write a lot of ugly sentences. Because good writing only happens after you write a truckload of stuff that would make you blush to admit it was yours.
3. Good feedback is worth its weight in gold.
One of my favorite parts of being a student is the writing community. As I’ve interacted with my classmates and professors, opening myself to their critique, I’ve broadened my ideas of what is possible in my writing. They point out confusion where I thought I was clear, tell me where more tension is needed, and suggest plot twists. It’s painful sometimes to be critiqued, especially when trying something new, but it stimulates my mind to find previously unconsidered solutions.
Find people to share with and glean from. An MFA’s not for everyone, but do attend conferences and seek out a writer’s group to join! Because good writing happens within a sharing community.
So ditch your muse, write a sloppy first draft, and go get some feedback! There’s no better way to build stamina in your writing journey.