So Vermont College of Fine Arts students and alums are doing a blog tour about writing and their experiences at Vermont College. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I graduated from VCFA with my MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults. I had a wonderful experience there, and I highly recommend it to anyone who truly cares about their writing and wants to improve.
Anyway, I agreed to both write a post for the tour and to host a month of guest posts about various writing topics which will probably start next week, so stay tuned for that. The topic that I chose to write about is “Finding the heart in your story.” I hope you all enjoy. And do feel free to write me with questions about the program if you’re considering it.
Finding the Heart in Your Story:
I decided to be a writer after some minor success with my first book when I was seven. I took a year off from college ten years ago and blithely wrote my “first novel.” Ha.
Many critique groups, writing classes, and conferences later, my novel was going nowhere. But I was serious about this writing thing, so I found myself at Vermont College of Fine Arts. They gave me a scholarship when they admitted me. I thought I was Pretty Hot Stuff. I just needed to learn to turn a prettier phrase (but I thought my phrases were already fairly pretty). Again, can I say: Ha.
I got to my first workshop–the extremely squirm-worthy process whereby 15-20 extremely articulate students and a teacher who has written so many books that he could generate an award-winning plot in his sleep tell you exactly what is and isn’t working with your novel–and discovered from the inimitable Tim Wynne-Jones that my characters lacked emotion, my plot lacked internal logic, my language was altogether too flowery. Oh, and that setting I thought was Wales?–Well, it felt more like Ireland, actually.
I cried big, fat heavy tears alone in my dorm room. Then I put my hair up in a pompadour and I got on with life.
My first semester studying with one of my literary heros–Martine Leavitt–did not go any better. I spent the entire semester trying to convince her that she just hadn’t understood my perfect vision.
Now fast forward through three semesters, a few World Wars, and a great deal of craptastic writing to my penultimate residency. Here you will find me crying in my closet after my good friend Clete finished his graduate reading.
Why was I crying this time?
Because the story Clete read from was so deep and heartfelt and emotionally honest that I suddenly realized how much resistance I have to my own writing. I realized that I aggressively “try” so I don’t have to do the real work of writing from my heart.
I’d like to say that I’m a new person now, that I have no ego and I always dig deep. Sigh. But over the course of my last semester my writing did change. I started to actually listen to my wonderful advisor–Margaret Bechard. My writing became a little darker, scarier, and more fluid. And I started to ask the question: why do I need to tell this story?
Now that I’ve graduated, that question is with me each time I sit down to write. And with it I’ve occasionally found a deep openness. This space is scary and so I often avoid it. But not always.
It’s a process.
Finding the heart of your story is like finding the heart of yourself. You never really get there, but every step you take gets you a little bit closer. And if it’s worth it to you, you keep going.