MFA Semester 2 and Adapting to My Flawed Process
March already. Halfway into my second semester as an MFA student. Strange, the only suitable response that comes to mind is an arms-outstretched, juvenile yell of "Craziness!" (In my mind, of course.)
Clearly "somebody up there likes me," because my weekly schedule also has its major perks. During the week, I'm fortunate to have writers as coworkers: we've made a ritual of devoting 15-20 minutes semi-weekly to creative writing, sometimes sharing what we've written when we're done. Talk about Nerd Heaven! I also somehow ended up with a four-day weekend in my schedule -- which translates to ample hours to develop some new productive habits. Working out, for instance (a nice way to reverse some of those sitting-at-a-desk-all-day effects), but more importantly, an Unapologetic Writing Day (yes, it's capitalized). One full day to put all other work aside, close the door, and focus exclusively on my writing.
Or drinking tea.
Or pacing around my room.
Or despairing over writer's block.
My process, my natural writing inclinations, are flawed beyond question. But I learned a long time ago that I can't always eliminate my weaknesses, I just have to work around them. I believe that self-improvement often has little to do with changing who you are as it does with applying your natural self strategically. So how does one strategize one's writing flaws?
Step 1, I can observe and acknowledge my weakness. Be this a temporary or permanent issue, I know now that unless I'm writing a really short story, I can no longer write a story in a day. I can't -- or at least, any attempts to makes me miserable, and misery makes work harder. So, step 2, I work around that flaw: I break up the drafting process. Against all inner voices yelling for perfect completion ASAP, I've forced myself into a system of working on a story's dialogue one day, action another day, description on another. Sometimes, the only type of "writing" I can get done for a story is the thought behind it -- the brainstorming, the planning, and not a lick of it on paper -- and I tell myself consciously (despite sulking emotions) that it's absolutely fine. That brings me to Step 3, I guess: doing what works right, not what feels right, in a writing crisis. There will be many times in writing where our heads and emotions disagree: my emotions want to say that adapting my process shouldn't be necessary, that I used to write whole stories in a day, that one-sitting writing is the only way to get the "flow" right, dammit. But if that's what my current situation isn't letting me do, if that's what's not productive right now, I have to ignore those feelings. I have to adapt to the problem at hand, and that means being comfortable with one part of me being at odds with the other (at least temporarily).
If I've learned anything this semester, it's that my writing will never be consistent, neither in quality nor productivity nor method. There will be periods where it comes easily, others where it will struggle, still others where previous joy-inducing exercises will become painful as hell. There is no sure-fire formula to writing, simply because I am a fickle, moody, ever-changing human being. My writing flaws will always evolve as I do, so I have to make my process evolve with them.
Thanks for enduring the long and rambling update, which I will conclude with one belated bit of news about change, in the words of my favorite literary heroine: