I am now in my third year of the MFA program at FAU, and during my time here I have realized something definitive about my writing process: writing will always be painful. I used to imagine that once I settled into a groove with writing, once I had a place in an MFA program and actually made time to write every day, the act of writing would become easier. In fact, being fully invested in my writing is still as difficult as ever. I am hardly alone in this feeling; every writer must battle distractions, procrastination, self-doubt, and the terror of the blank page. I know I am in good company. I also find that the more agony I go through when writing a piece, the more positive feedback my piece ultimately receives, so I try to work on embracing the pain.
But my third year has been my most challenging year yet. During my first two years in the program, it was necessary that I focus on learning how to teach and on the classes I was taking in addition to my own creative writing. Now that I have finished my coursework and feel more comfortable as a teacher, there is not much left to “distract” me from my primary reason for being here: the completion of my thesis, a collection of short stories. It isn’t enough to simply finish my thesis; I feel that it should represent the very best that I can do. That added pressure, plus the larger amount of unstructured time, has resulted in some writer’s block.
Setting regular deadlines can be helpful in ensuring that work gets done, but I am realizing that if I want to do more than just complete the work – if I want to do it well – there will be times that I need to set one story aside in order to work on another. The particular section of my thesis that I’m most inspired to work on can change depending on the day, my mood, or what I happen to be reading. I’m learning that the more I can recognize this feeling of inspiration and follow it, the quicker I can get past feeling stuck and the less painful the writing process will be. I think that this approach is one of the advantages of working with a short story collection, which doesn’t require a strict chronology the way a novel might; I have the freedom to shift my focus to whichever story appears most in focus. The process is less structured and less linear than I thought it would be. Instead of focusing on accomplishing a specific task, a good day is one where I can simply remain invested and engaged in my work for as long as possible.
Katrina Gersie is an MFA candidate in fiction at FAU. She works as a GTA and as Editor-in-Chief of Coastlines. Her thesis is a collection of realist short stories.