Back to Basics

DSCF3179One of the good things about moving into the MFA, a student from the previous year said, is that you’re going to have more ‘one-to–ones’ and much more time to write. Great! What could be better than that? While the MA is full of – for credit- wonderfully taught master classes, and lots of assignments to hand in every week, we are told we will be freer on the MFA. Now, hold on. Is that really a good thing? Having all the time in the world doesn’t necessarily mean that we, even those of us who are starting to think of ourselves as writers, will sit down and write. And that is, because only real, committed writers, regardless of whether they attend creative courses or not, understand the most important principle of the craft: to sit down and write.

As we make progress through our stories, we sometimes – or very often – think that now that the plot is clear, that the narrative is flowing in an effortless way and we have –finally!- become better at spotting shifts in point of view, and so on, the story will carry itself forward, with our occasional input. Because there’s never an abundance of time to write. Yes, we all have jobs, outside home, or from home, or kids, or kids and dogs, or simply other tasks, challenges or passions to look after. And we think that our writing is all well when, really, it isn’t.

That is why it came as a surprise – although really no surprise there- when our course director sent us an email before the beginning of the year asking us to read “Becoming a Writer”, the classic by Dorothea Brande. The first reaction? Are we, effectively, back to basics? Wait, is this not a book that we all read before we even considered enrolling in the creative writing postgraduate course? We are way past that. Really? Are we?

But if we are writers only three words will do: constancy, discipline and backbone.

Constancy:After (re) reading the book many among us started to tell how difficult (but how productive) it felt to set a strict time each day to write, and do nothing more than write during a set period of time each day, additional to what D.B calls ‘early morning writing’.

Discipline:‘Old habits are strong and jealous’, D.B also reminds us. How true!

Backbone: Not Just D.B. but every real writer knows that writing is not easy. Even the physical act of writing is not easy. Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that writing ‘is a work of ass’ (es un trabajo de culo.) Yes, of sitting, alone, for hours. Even if surrounded by people (like in a cafe, library) you’re still alone, and you’re still sitting on your backside. Even when you’re eavesdropping into other’s people’s conversations, if you’re writing, you’re not going to jump in and join them- though nothing is impossible, the temptation is there, isn’t it? But you would stop writing. And while making that choice of sticking to writing, we are making a choice of loneliness, a selfish one, perhaps, a solitary one. We need to have backbone.

So here we are, more adept at plotting, at managing back story, still trying to control p.o.v, but what we really, really need to master first, is to sit down and write.

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