At the end of 2014, I saw a lot of year-end lists in newspapers and online, including “Best of 2014” and “Year in Review” pieces. The weeks at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new are a time for reflection over the past year, regrouping so we can tackle the year ahead with renewed energy. This year I took a couple of weeks off from school and work so I could spend time with family and friends in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. In the lulls between hanging out with my loved ones and holiday celebrations, I spent some time thinking about what comes next: life after my MFA program.
In early December, I handed in my MFA thesis. The process was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. From September through the due date, I was completing a story draft or revision every week. I wrote almost every day, spent long hours at the Writer’s Room and in coffee shops, traded Friday night plans for tackling difficult rewrites. We are apt to compare projects like this to athletic events, to sprints or marathons. To borrow from a friend’s obsession with Sisyphus, I felt more like I was pushing a boulder up a hill. Momentum was everything. When I got going, the work was tough, but good. I had to keep moving, though. If I stopped I might not be able to get started again.
The professors at my program warn us about burn-out. Trying to polish one hundred pages of fiction in eleven weeks is a difficult project, and too much stress can make writing seem like a chore rather than a vocation. At times, in the weeks leading up to my initial and final thesis due dates, I wanted to watch TV or bake or write letters or go to a museum, anything but sit down and write. Making my final edits the day my thesis was due, I could see that my collection of linked stories was far from the finished product I’d naively thought it might be. I’d left out stories still in progress, and I simply didn’t have time to make some of the bigger revisions I needed. I was tired, I was stressed, I may have shed a few tears. (I’m an incorrigible perfectionist.) But I turned in the imperfect product anyway. And I spent the next few days eating out, seeing friends, attending holiday parties. The only thing I wrote was a quick blog post.
One week later I boarded a plane home to Portland, and a magical thing occurred. Sitting there on the flight, watching TV on the overhead monitors, something clicked in my head. I opened up my notebook and started a new story. The story has nothing to do with the my thesis project, at least at the moment, and I haven’t even completed a first draft, but it feels promising. Who knows if it will go anywhere in the end? What I’m really excited about is that even after four months of hard work, I still want to write.
In the spring I’ll be finishing my last few classes and trying to figure out what to do next. My MFA program has been like a wonderful, bizarre alternate reality where I’m immersed in the writing world, constantly challenged and inspired by those around me. After I graduate in May, I’ll need to figure out a way to stay motivated to write, to keep the momentum that I got started in my thesis project going. I need to figure out how to write in the real world. So I’ll be making some writing New Year resolutions this week.
My resolutions won’t be overly ambitious or too easy. I see them not as a test of my fortitude, but as a set of goals to shoot for. I’m going to challenge myself to write every day, even if just a sentence, even if it’s only on a side project. I want to add two new stories to my linked stories collection. And I want to revise the stories still in progress. I’d like to begin seriously submitting work for publication. Finally, I aim to try to form a community of writers that will hold together even after we leave school, so we can continue to help and inspire each other to be better. A sort of Bloomsbury group, if you will.
What are your New Year’s writing resolutions?
Miriam Cook, Ivan Gold Fiction Fellow