Fueling the MFA

by Sarah Valadez

For many MFA in Creative Writing students, caffeine is our best friend. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc. Sometimes, I need a boost, and caffeinated beverages come to my temporary rescue.

Maybe you don’t like caffeine, of course. We all need energy, and the MFA student needs to sustain attention for reading books for our literature classes and techniques classes and reading our peers’ work for workshops. We need energy most of all for our writing. Energy comes in many forms.

While some of us thrive on fruits and vegetables too, I admit that I enjoy caffeine. It’s effective, and it can also be social. Writers in our program gather at The 1888 Center, which hosts Contra Coffee and Tea, or Provisions, which hosts Portolo Coffee Roasters. There are plenty of coffee shops on and near campus where we can grind through a bunch of ideas. When I’m percolating to get something on the page, but I’m feeling sluggish— the smell of coffee gets me out of bed and to my computer.

I write most creatively when I have full concentration. I don’t want to be sleepy when I’m coming up with good material. Every writer should be fully cognitive and invested in the words we create.

Of course, sleep is good too! A lot of people don’t get the sleep they should, and students are sometimes known for this shortcoming. Even if you try, sometimes you just can’t sleep at night. There’s not always a particular reason for insomnia, but sometimes, we push ourselves too hard, too long. Concentration is key to a productive writing life and a good mental attitude, and you need sleep to concentrate well when you’re awake.

All this is to say, that there is combination I like to call the Pro-Writing Trinity: energy, concentration, and positivity. All are necessary and interconnected.

What’s terrific is that these concepts can be applied to other aspects of our lives outside of the MFA program, whether that involves relaxing with family, meeting new people, working a part-time job, cooking (that’s one of my favorite non-student activities!), driving (some of us do a lot of that), and much more. The Pro-Writing Trinity supports me in every aspect of my life.

Not all days are happy or amazing, so positivity may not always seem accessible, and caffeine isn’t always a good answer. A positive attitude can be draining on energy and concentration, and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with video games, cooking, or cuddling— these are the things I do when I feel glum. What makes me happy, helps me concentrate, and gives me energy fuels the words on the page.