The self-made MFA

There’s always that loud space of emptiness and silence when you start to write…There’s no way to guarantee a safe, easy journey into words on the page. –Barbara Abercrombie

Sometimes my own writing bores me. I’m writing along on some novel or another and I get tired of my sentence structure, my word choice, my thinking. This is not a good sign. Surely if I’m bored, my readers will be, too.

I wish my life were capable of supporting dropping out of the workforce and going back to school for an MFA. It’s not.

Short of that, I have concluded I must make my own MFA in Creative Writing. For years now I have told myself I’m doing a good job just to continue writing novel after novel–that my writing would organically improve in that fashion. It has, but not enough. I seem to have reached a plateau. My new resolution is to expand the time I write.

Not only must I continue working on my novels, I must also exercise my writing muscle in new and exciting ways.
I have been fighting doing this. “I don’t have time. I don’t know what to write. I don’t enjoy short stories…” It all comes down to the above quote. I’m afraid of the blank page.

Today I am going to take a paragraph or two each from three novels which are written in a way that knocks me back and makes me say, “I wish I could write like that,” and superimpose my plot and characters on the sentence structure of these admired writers. Here goes into the deep end.

For your enjoyment, my first attempt is below.

My Original
I stopped and looked at him more closely. It was an Earther, speaking Anglish, and he looked familiar. Just then he turned his head a little and his profile brought it all back. For a second I lay in my own vomit on a rocky ridge with women holding me down as I watched him shoot my father. I went cold and the men holding me clenched my arms when they felt my muscles constrict against the memory. I would kill him. I would. They shook me and I was grateful. I couldn’t kill this man now, as badly as I wanted to. It would mess up the ambush. Killing this man would have to wait.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
After a minute his camouflaged face resolved into recognizability, shredding the tatters of my sanity. A vat baby, cursed from the moment of his test tube conception, stood before me. The memory of my father’s death slammed home, vividly as maggots on a rotting corpse. Too much emotion in this horrid scene. Still. I felt the resolution of a plan begun, and I let my arms go limp. A holosculpt I once viewed, The Agony of a Modern Life, portrays a woman carried…

Clearly, Mitchell’s winding, self-reflective style is not well-suited to an action scene. But it does add depth to the situation and characterization which I didn’t have. Also, his sentence structure is richer than mine.



Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. –Carl Jung

I have always believed I should be “the best” at what I do and, further, that I have the capacity or even the right to be so. Perhaps this is due to rearing or some natural predilection–perhaps that’s just a cop-out way of referring to nature versus nurture.

Whatever the case, as I near my 45th year I am coming around to the realization I am not super woman. I am simply another human being trying to do my best in a challenging environment. This has been a painful realization. I was attached to the idea of being superior, dammit!

My most basic spiritual precept is a commitment to truth. Theoretically, I should be rejoicing that a lie I have lived with my whole life is evaporating before me. I am looking inside. I am awakening. The subversive voice within asks: what is the point of awakening if one is awakening to mediocrity? Here my spiritual conviction of the primacy of truth must take over. Awakening to the truth can only be good for me. It just hurts. It’s just frightening. What will I be left with when my protective lies are all burned away?

A final question: As I searched for an image to go with this post, I found a lot of inspiring quotes about avoiding mediocrity. The question is, how does one go about this? How does one take a mediocre life and turn toward excellence?

When mediocrity becomes the accepted norm, excellence dies a painful death. –Rashida Rowe