Recently, while walking to our MFA workshop room—the one with the faux-wood conference table the size of a newborn whale and a ceiling full of fluorescent, sometimes ticking, buzzing, blocks of light—a fellow MFAer whose piece would be workshopped that night said something that, I think, any writer can relate to. It was something along the lines of, “If writing freaks me out so much, if it’s this painful, should I be pursuing a degree in it?”
Now, no matter how many times I’ve been workshopped, there is always a high level of anxiety that arises as I’m walking through the doorway into fluorescent limbo. Like an itch in an area of the body that can’t be scratched in public, I don’t acknowledge it, I keep my hands upon the vinyl veneer of the baby whale and smile and nod and write things down that I won’t make myself read for at least a week. Things like: “Let’s talk about the dream sequence” - an abundance of snickering.
I’m not saying the concept of being workshopped stunts writers’ creativity, but being workshopped is one of the many pressures of an MFA Creative Writing student, along with the imagined judgment of an idolized professor, the killer piece that another MFAer got published (even if you’re also totally proud of them), not to mention the way teaching, mainly grading papers, acts like an ice pick to your time and creativity. Yeah, we need to suck it up, no doubt, but if we let these pressures consume us, writing can absolutely become freaky and painful.
My motto this semester was taken from a quote I read by Junot Diaz:
"The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art."
Even back in August, I knew too well that these pressures could cause writing to quickly become work instead of a cathartic, pleasurable activity that was essential for my sanity and happiness. Consequently, in this first semester pursuing the MFA at FAU—a program that has so kindly welcomed me into its strong, careful arms—I try to think of or re-read this quote whenever I am freaked out, bummed out, struggling with the idea of majoring in something else, or watching one more episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netlflix. I should write it on a handy notecard or get it tattooed to the back of my hand, maybe.
We also can’t forget that being a writer is masochistic in nature. Another Diaz quote that I found while searching for the above one illustrates this:
"I just want to write four books before I die. For real. And yes: I worry all the time about never writing again. Most of my writer peers write like it’s a daily they’re producing. I write like it’s an organ I’m pulling out of myself."
Anyhow, it is nice to know that, first of all, other writers struggle with this issue, and secondly, that I’m allowed—as an artist—to take my time and write, which, let’s face it, probably takes way less time than worrying about what the whole culture of writing is thinking and doing, and being too paralyzed to write at all.
Kim Grabenhorst is a first-year MFA student at FAU who, other than writing, likes refurbishing old, beat up, forgotten pieces of furniture into colorful, functional, happy things. She would also be one of the first to sign up for a procedure that could replace her blood, permanently, with iced coffee, so that she would be freed from the alluring, capitalistic chains of Starbucks and her Keurig.