I knew getting an MFA would entail, well, writing a lot — and that this would hopefully make me a better fiction writer. (I mean, duh.) Maybe it’s because I don’t come from an English background, but what I didn’t realize was how much I’d be impacted by moments of non-writing: making friends who know my stories as well as I do; hearing classmates read their work out in the world; embarrassing myself in small talk situations with famous visiting authors; creating oddly sophisticated new forms of communication with friends that involve the word “deer” and all the possible non-standard interpretations of the word; reading outside of my genre and realizing I actually enjoy poetry; or noticing the rather troubling confidence and aggression of Fort Collins’ squirrels, who seem intent on finding structural weaknesses in my home and breaking in.
All these things (even the squirrels, which I hope will one day give me inspiration and not nightmares) seem to impact my writing in ways I wasn’t expecting, nudging me toward themes and patterns I only vaguely thought about eight months ago before the program. The process sort of reminds me of how I became a confident Spanish speaker: teaching in Madrid and, day after day, month after month, being willing to embarrass myself in front of my Spanish housemates, and not worrying about the “rules” of speech. I just flooded my brain with the language and trusted my intuition. Not that I feel like I’m embarrassing myself here, but I do think being willing to take creative risks without fear of judgment (like speaking a foreign language) feels important towards growing as a writer. Maybe learning to write fiction in an MFA is less one of learning skill (a) to accomplish outcome (b), and more a process of letting go, of allowing oneself to feel comfortable to miss the mark, time and time again, and having the confidence that whatever is gained in that struggle will eventually pay dividends.
Or, maybe I’m just trying to justify my own sense of uncertainty about the whole process. In any case, the only thing I do know is that this first year has been more creatively fulfilling than I could have imagined, and not even my neighborhood squirrel population can put a damper on it.
Ben Freedman is a first year MFA candidate in fiction.