Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sometimes I think I've been ruined by the MFA

So, a little tête-à-tête of rambling for today:

I feel like the MFA is still caught up in my brain. Like I have little professors and peers whispering and scolding: you should be reading this or that, not this or that. Today I went to Barnes and Noble to buy Aimee Bender's novel "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" (I had a coupon), and since the purchase, I've been asking myself why I bought it. Don't get me wrong, Bender's a great writer (or so I'm told), but I probably wouldn't have known about her or felt any desire at all to purchase her novel had it not been for someone in my MFA program (a professor or student, doesn't really matter who) to sit up and say: "Hey, you should be reading her."

Why? Why should I be reading her? Because she's "literary"? Because she's got mad diction skillz?

And then, with Bender novel in hand, I found myself in fiction anthologies looking at the O'Henry and Pushcart collections for this year, thinking to myself "I really should start reading/writing short stories again."

WHY?!?! What should I be reading/writing short stories?

I don't really like short stories (I mean they're fine and yes I'm trying to get some published, but I don't really care about them). I like novels. I am a novelist, not a short story writer. And still, I'm thumbing through a few of the Pushcart stories, reading opening paragraphs, wondering if I should buy these too because I really should keep up to date with what's happening in the short story world.

Ugh, really?

And then I think about my current project (a supernatural YA novel) and how I'm constantly questioning my decision to use a pen name instead of my real name when/if I'm actually successful and get it published. (I'm about to make a strong attempt to reach out to agents soon.) Here's what I think to myself: "Well, you might want to get serious one day, so you'd better use a pen name." And THEN I think: "Who the hell said you're not 100% serious with this totally awesome (cause it is) supernatural YA novel? Use your real name on this and a fake name on anything 'serious' (aka: literary)." Then my conscience is like: "But Tanya, you really should use your name on serious novels."

I'm so messed up in my head. The MFA program made me ashamed of myself in a way. I don't like that. It frustrates me beyond measure that I'm not 100% comfortable talking about or showing my YA stuff to my MFA peers.

My friends.

I wonder when I'll feel comfortable enough to share my alter ego (aka: real self) with more people. I guess four months post graduation is not enough time to really heal from something as mind blowing as an Master of Fine Arts program.


allison said...

It's a year post-dropping-out for me, and I just in the past 2 or 3 months have actually ENJOYED writing again.

Jammi said...

As long as you keep questioning your thinking I don't think you've been ruined, lol. I haven't gone to school for writing [beyond high school] but one of my friends did and I know she felt like she never fit in because people scoffed at her for writing YA which isn't serious/important writing.

But we looked at our reading patterns and things that influenced us and YA books had a larger impact on us then TV and in some cases, our friends [admittedly, we met as part of an online reading club, LOL, but still, books influence readers the way TV influences other folks].

I can talk about books that made me feel weird for not having a boyfriend at 14 and then ones that made it easier because the characters were happy with themselves.

I can't name one literary piece of work that really influenced me. Well, maybe Margaret Atwood but I only read her for school so...

And I always think about how people use the classics to talk about 'serious writing' and it's like, Jane Austin was a romance writer, Conan Doyle was a mystery writer, both genres that are scoffed at today.

And in regards to pen names, instead of thinking of it as 'getting serious' think of it more in the fact that your name is a product, and if someone branded water as Coca-Cola and you bought it based on that name you'd be irritated because it wasn't what you were expecting.

Same thing, if you write mainly YA books then switch to Adult then you'll need a name change so your readers know that it's a different product.

There are times when I feel like I'll need a pen name because I have an aunt who writes african-american based literature and I don't want her to know what I write because I'm more UF/YA and as such it's not as 'important', and then I think about the fact that if there had been more novels growing up with a more diverse lead of characters maybe I would've felt more comfortable with myself.

And with you, when I think about what I take from Starter Boyfriend [note: I analyse everything, lol, which is another reason I think all types of books are important] is the fact that your main character is someone I think young girls can look towards and connect with *and* she's a good role model because even though she hadn't had a boyfriend before, she respected herself enough to step away from a relationship that could hurt her. And there are a lot of stories where the main character wouldn't have done that which I think encourages destructive behaviour.

Jammi said...

So yeah, you might have that feeling of being ashamed but you will shake it. And like you said, who's to say what you're writing isn't important.

Sorry if my reply didn't help at all, LOL, I just realised it really went off topic but I think stepping back and trying to put things in perspective to what's important to you versus what someone tells you is important and serious work will make things a bit easier.

Tanya said...

[First, I had a whole long response and stupid blogger lost it, grrr.]

@Jammi, Really good points. I often think the same thing about Austen (and Doyle) and wish there were no MFA programs (which are just a bunch of money makers). I wonder how Austen's writing would have changed if she'd taken writing classes. It wouldn't be as amazing, I don't think. I do feel like a lot of MFA students start to turn into one another. In programs like that lots of people tend to write for their peers, for other writers. It wasn't about the story or the characters it was "isn't this sentence pretty". I really didn't have time for that (and still to this day worry about my sentences--craft note to come soon).

I definitely do think that I will use multiple names for my writing because I do have plans to write both YA and adult. The biggest question is: do I put my real name on my YA and a pen name on the adult stuff or vise versa. I probably shouldn't worry about it until someone actually wants to publish me.

I think everything you said in your comments was completely relevant and I hope that I can shake it soon!

@Allison: I'm so glad that you're enjoying writing again! That's the best post-school feeling, I think. :)

B :) said...

I say write what you want to write, and don't try to put yourself in this box of what's serious and what's not. And even if you aren't writing "serious" stuff, what does it matter? Those are honestly the more famous people anyway, hehe.

Different books reach out to different people. We all are drawn to stories for different reasons. So, people will be drawn to your work. Don't worry about those that aren't.

Plus, I think it's pointless to write anything unless you're excited or passionate about it.

But I do feel you on the ashamed bit... it's what makes writing so hard for me. Not many of my friends are the creative sort. They are practical lawyers, accountants, doctors... and so they just don't "get" it all, you know? So I feel really self-conscious to try to even begin explaining what I'd like to write, what types of stories I'm working on, etc. I think, "what if they laugh?"

Tanya said...

@B: I understand the feelings you get when you're around your friends with "practical" jobs. Just remember that those people rely on people like us to entertain them. Sure maybe not everything we do would appeal to them in the long run, but there's some lawyer or doctor out there who loves YA, genre, lit, whatever, and wouldn't know the first thing about how to create it.

I had a similar situation when I went to lunch with the dean of the graduate school at UNH. There were other students there who were biomedical engineers and looking at water resources and other things that would actually help people in "practical" ways. I felt like a hug zit.

Ah well... :)


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