To Every New Writer:
There will probably be a voice in your head that tells you that you do not belong here. Do not listen to it. You belong here just as much as everyone else who’s here.
Being in an MFA program sometimes seems like an impossible task to me, and being in an MFA program as a new writer is even harder to fathom. Every day, I seem to be told by a professor or by an assigned reading how difficult it is to make it as a writer. None of this is said to discourage me. It is meant to inform me about the reality of the field so that I can be prepared. That does not stop it from being soul crushing at times.
My peers sit by my side with years of writing experience while I feel a blank slate. If a workshop brings a student to tears and has that writer questioning whether their writing is any good, that’s because we have the tendency to compare our own work and with that of our peers. I sometimes read my classmates’ work and am awed by how they have masterfully honed their craft and voice. Looking at their work, I might think it was some kind of mistake when I received my acceptance letter. Do I belong among these students?
Yes! Do not fall into this false logic of comparison. This kind of thinking is a trap.
Not every single student has the same experience level, nor is each writer the same in other ways.
I am coming to terms with the fact that I am new to a world that some of my peers have called home for much longer than I have. I must celebrate my achievements because I’m in this program to learn. It’s okay if I am at a different stage in my writing career than other students. That means there is plenty of room for me to grow and learn from the writers who have had years of practice.
Some days, being part of this MFA program makes me feel as if I’ve jumped off of a cliff as if I already know how to fly. But that’s not the case at all. Everyone has to start somewhere. My peers were rookies at one point—and maybe they still feel like rookies—and William Shakespeare and Fyodor Dostoevsky were once new at this writing life too.
Being part of the MFA community at Chapman University means that I don’t have to isolate myself. I can reach out to others, knowing that we share some of the same goals as writers. I’ve made connections with writers in my classes, and they inspire me. I learn from their craft and experiences. I look for professors who might be good mentors, too, ones whose values align with mine but who will also challenge me. Surviving as a writer is hard, and it’s helpful to have the support of people that understand what it means to be a writer.
I’ve come to know that if I have a question, I’m not the only person with that question. I’m not already supposed to know everything. I’m gearing up to ask every question I have about being a writer so that I can learn as much as I can while I’m here, surrounded by other writers.
My advice to others in graduate school: embrace every part of this experience and sit with the fact that you are new and that’s okay. Your passion is just as grand as that of others. Getting into this MFA program was not chance. I was accepted for a reason: my writing matters.