A Foot in the MFA Door: On Inspiration

by Ashley Teller

In my first semester in the MFA in Creative Writing program, I learned a great deal about the art and business of being a writer, especially in the Aspects of a Writer class that all the incoming students take together.  It is not all that it seems to be: it has the pros and cons, just like any job really.  However, being a writer is one of the most beautiful and purest of art forms.  It’s about taking one’s emotions or an idea that has sparked in one’s head and putting it to paper in the rawest form.  And then it’s about revising it. It is not easy, but that is the point.

Great art cannot be accomplished overnight.  It is a process one should never give up, which is something I learned when I took Richard Bausch’s Techniques of Fiction class.  Inspiration can happen at the most unexpected times.  I know through experience that you cannot force inspiration to happen.

Rather, you must go out in the world and experience life in order for inspiration to hit—or for you to recognize it.  If you’re out and about and paying attention, an idea can pop up into or form in your head.  Because of this, I recommend that every writer carry around an inspiration journal at all times.  When inspiration strikes, you have easy access to writing it all down.  Some of my friends use their phones for this.

At times,  I have been unsure of whether I was meant to be here or whether my writing was any good.  However, I talked with my professors, and they are fantastic.  I recommend talking to them because they’re definitely there for us.  They know we have talent and want to push us, help us, and see us succeed.  No one wants to see anyone else fail.  It’s common for writers to get down on ourselves, but being in an MFA program gives us ways out of that thinking.  When it gets hard, we can talk with our fellow classmates and professors. Seeing what others around us are accomplishing and talking about how we’re all doing this thing we call writing is really helpful, especially during a tough time.  We are great inspiration for each other.

In fact, thinking about others is something I’ve come to value.  I have learned that we, as MFA students, have the ability to work with the community and even apply for grants through the school to do the types of projects that not only impact ourselves but also impact others.  It’s incredibly rewarding to help out other people rather than just focus on ourselves.  As writers and as students, we can shape and change our own lives and the lives of others, especially younger people. Whether you call this literary citizenship or give it another name, it’s inspiring for everyone involved.