I’ll start this blog post off with a light philosophical conundrum. You know, because that’s what really draws the reader in. Blaise Pascal’s logical argument for the pursuit of a belief in God suggests that, based on the possible outcomes of believing in God (infinite reward if s/he does, finite loss if s/he doesn’t), it is more beneficial for a human being to try to believe as opposed to entirely disregarding the possibility for the existence of a God. Many of you have surely heard this argument before and will likely not change your belief in God simply because a dead philosopher says it could help you in the end. Nor am I really concerned with convincing anyone that God exists in 500 words or less.
What I am concerned with are the consequences of believing in something simply because it is inevitable. In my experience, nearly every writer I’ve met has certain things in common historically. We all loved stories, in one form or another, from a very young age. Personally, I started off with an obsession for cartoons and movies and fantasy novels. The idea of a story has always captivated me. Storytelling, as an art form, is etched somewhere deep inside of me. And, for me, this is God.
When I first put pen to paper, so to speak, it was actually a box of crayons. My mother told me recently that she used to find picture books that I had drawn on printer paper and folded into my own books. Often they were of scuba-divers on deep sea expeditions, or of astronauts finding an abandoned spaceship. This is when I became a writer. And I am confident that anyone in a MFA program became a writer long before they ever wrote their first “real” story.
But what did I write, exactly? Right now, having been trained to understand writing through particular lenses, I would say that those picture books were most definitely fiction. I would look back on my scribbled dialogue and tell myself that was the beginning of my career as a fiction writer. But only in retrospect. Back then, before there was even an idea of fiction or nonfiction or poetry or academic essays, I was telling a story that was as real to me as my blood or my skin. I was telling the story of a real diver; a real astronaut. Because when I started writing, the boundaries disappeared. I’ve heard many of my peers call this some form of escapism. But I would argue that I never wrote with an impulse to escape. I wrote with an impulse to explore.
My point here is a simple one: writers are storytellers. And all writers exist in a system of classification. We applied to schools under the guise of a particular field: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. And these classifications are certainly not useless distinctions. But they are just that; distinctions. They are the lines drawn on a map to make travelling across the U.S. feel as though you are putting puzzle pieces in their comfortable corners. However, these lines are drawn for the reader, not the writer. The writer (in this exhausted metaphor) is the cartographer.
So ultimately my query to all MFA students, and more so to all writers and storytellers, is this: How much does your “chosen genre” dictate your writing? How much do these boundaries between Fiction and Nonfiction and Poetry and Academic writing matter to what you are producing? Are you jeopardizing creative exploration in favor of comfortability?
I should note here that I AM an advocate of genreless writing, in theory. But I am still bound by Fiction and I always will be in some way. And this is why I keep the young storyteller with the crayons at the ready. The writer on the fringe of reality. Because in my naivety, I was as close to boundless as I had ever been. I was able to explore reality by creating the unreal. I was able to paint infinite futures out of poetry. I was on the search for God in an 8x12 piece of printer paper.
And that’s really what it comes down to. I hope that, with an awareness of genre and form and how they either encourage or discourage or guide or misdirect… I hope we are able to write with the same ontological hope embedded in Pascal’s Wager. That it is worth trying to write without genre in mind, even if the results end up being the same. Because the infinite gains outweigh the finite loss.
Nicholas Becher is working on his MFA in Fiction and is in his 2nd Semester at FAU.