It's been eight years since I graduated from my MFA program, and I've probably learned more about the world of writing in those eight years than I did in the program itself. At the very least, I've certainly learned more about myself as a writer since graduation.
I'm not saying I didn't learn anything in my program because I did. I learned a tremendous amount about the craft of writing. However, it's the things I didn't learn regarding how to be a struggling writer that have surprised me the most. And so, here are five things I wish I could go back and tell my younger MFA self to help prepare me for our writing life after graduation:
I teach writing because I love writing, and I want to share that love with others. It may be hard to believe, but I haven't always loved writing. At least not academic writing. I've always been an avid fiction writer, but when it came to my first writing class in college, I couldn't help but think: "What the hell did they do to writing? This sucks!"
I wasn't any good at academic writing, either. In fact, you probably remember the story I share in class about how I almost dropped out of college because of that first writing class. I needed to write a 4-page paper, and after 2.5 pages, I had nothing left. I was completely stumped. I kept thinking that I was obviously too stupid for college.
How ironic that it was a writing assignment that almost ruined everything for me.
Something interesting happened to me yesterday.
I was talking to some student colleagues about the nature of being employed by the state. Among the students, there was a future nurse, a future teacher, and a future accountant. Our discussion began as a benign conversation about retirement. I joked that because I got such a late start in life, I don't have much of a retirement plan to count on. "I once saw a billboard on the 10 freeway that said your in-laws are not a retirement plan," I said to my students. "So that sucks."
I teach writing. Mostly academic writing. And the one take-away from earlier writing courses that every student seems to comes into my class clinging to is the dreaded essay hook.
What a serious waste of writing instruction time. In this blog post, I'm going to outline why I think teaching (and learning) essay hooks is a giant misuse of valuable brain space.