My post yesterday described some of my post-MFA malaise. One of the things you lose after the MFA is the pre-arranged community of the semester’s reading and critique group and the accountability that comes along with being part of a writing workshop group (either in real-time, or at a distance).
When that first reminder went out to the current students (“Your manuscripts are due to the other members of your group and your faculty member at midnight tonight.”) I felt an odd pang of…emptiness. I didn’t have a deadline. I didn’t have three or four other people waiting, tapping their foot, wanting to get that next story or novel excerpt so they could begin the process of reading and responding to it in a timely manner. That motivating factor was, suddenly, gone.
As I said yesterday, that gives me a certain freedom. That freedom can be paralyzing.
In his book, The Accidental Creative, author Todd Henry talks about this very thing. Since I used his book as the primary basis of my graduating seminar, I was anticipating this aspect of the post-MFA life. I’ve been expecting it, and trying to combat it. I have a local group of fellow writers (who I’ve mentioned here before) and we are meeting on a regular basis. I have a small group of fellow post-MFA students from my Queens University experience I keep in touch with, I interact with my blog readers and Twit-friends. But, Henry suggests that adding structure to these interactions can offer us bigger dividends. He proposes we establish “circles” of other writers with whom we interact in a very specific way. (For the record, my local writing group ends up covering most of these bases without a formal agenda for our get-togethers, but I think it does make sense to actively pursue these topics in a straightforward, intentional way.)
Here’s a brief excerpt from my graduating paper called, Creative Rhythm and the post-MFA Writer:
Creativity is boosted when the writer regularly meets with a like-minded, yet diverse, group. These small creative groups help the writer stay focused and engaged. Further, they assist in the ongoing work of self-evaluation. The ideal participants in such a group will inspire and motivate. Such a group may already exist, and the writer may be able to join in. If not, it is the writer’s responsibility to form a small group. The core discussion of such a group should revolve around three questions:
What are you working on? – Each group member should share the most important projects and activities they are currently engaged in. Sharing in this way provides the individual with clarity of purpose and priority. If the writer tells the group her most important project is completing a revision of a short story for submission to a literary magazine, the act of sharing this with others is a subtle reminder of priority and a reinforcement of where here effort and time should be focused.
What is inspiring you? – Sharing points of inspiration–both in the individual’s particular field and outside it–is a great way to both internalize the inspiration and learn of complimentary or parallel sources. If a writer shares his fascination with medieval torture devices, another member may have valuable insight or information relating to that source of inspiration.
What would like prompting on? – This is another form of subtle accountability where one member of the group tells the others areas where she would appreciate gentle prodding and encouragement. The writer who tells her circle she needs to blog twice a week on a more consistent basis can expect the other members to check on her progress and offer help and encouragement.