I found out what an MFA was when I was a freshman at this school. At that age (which was not that long ago), I had just started this creative writing thing, and the MFA almost carried this “divine” quality to it. Only 2 percent get accepted into the Helen Zell Writers’ Program? The writers in the program must be god-like. Same was true when I learned about the Hopwood Awards — this prestigious contest that rewarded only those who were truly “brilliant,” as another writer friend described to me. And finally, the Creative Writing Subconcentration in the English Department, which is supposed to be a cohort of the best, most talented writers in the undergrad programs. (The degree to which this previous statement is true remains unclear to me.)
So I wanted these things. They became goals. I told myself they weren’t really, but they still were (and are).
The problem is this shifts everything. It shifts the focus from wanting to see your writing get better and better to wanting to see yourself *up there* in the spotlight. You talk to MFA faculty and writers who’ve been published and hoard prestigious awards, and think of yourself as now a Writer. You watch Youtube videos of Karen Russell and DFW and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and you fantasize about the moment you get this kind of publicity. All of which is fine; nothing’s inherently wrong with these things.
For me, though, there was a point in which I started to see critiques of my fiction not as a way for me to improve my actual writing but as a hindrance to my oh-so-bright writing “career” (which, let’s all just say it, is nonexistent). My real supporters were the ones who said my writing was good, not the ones who had a lot to say about where to improve.
At the end of the day, though, the accomplishments don’t amount to much. When I won a thing, my attitude (after the initial giddiness) was not that I’m now an amazing writer, but that wow, I need to keep winning to show that I’m not a one-trick pony. I’m not a real writer until I accomplish X-Y-Z. I used to think it was just X, but now there’s two more things.
It’s never-ending. It’s exhausting. It, to me, more and more seems to be a misdirection. I won a thing, but has my writing really improved over the years? If I looked at my pieces critically, I would answer “no.” The bad habits and problems I had as a freshman are still here. I had this goal last year to write more poetically, but I don’t think I made any efforts towards that; instead, I thought about the Subcon application. After a while, I realize I’m just creating a persona of a writer, and not focusing enough of my energies on the actual act of writing.