Monday, February 28, 2011

That thing you do

I desperately tried not to study writing. I signed on with practical majors in college, computer science then communications (advertising). But that didn't work out and I ended up with an undergraduate degree in English/creative writing and a minor in political science. Then I went to law school -- there's little in this life that's more practical and responsible and dull than going to law school.

But don't you want to write? other students asked me when I told them my post-graduation plans.

Yeah, but I want to eat too. Being a starving artist living in a cardboard box did not appeal to me.

But I didn't last long at law school. I knew as soon as I got there that it wasn't right for me, but it took me three months to convince the practical, responsible voices in my head to agree. I spent hours in the on campus bookstore reading Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I started writing a short story in the format of a case brief.  Finally I gave in to the fact that, yes the classes were interesting and the pace was thrilling, but the students and the atmosphere and lifestyle and the writing that they asked young lawyers to do was life draining.  (Legal writing is the first, and so far only type of writing that I've found I don't enjoy doing -- I even enjoy writing academic research papers!) 

Finally the day came when I decided that making enough money to pay for a fancy therapist was not good enough reason to put myself in therapy in the first place. So I scrambled and got an MFA application together in less than a month, and eleven months after quitting law school, I started an MFA.

MFA programs aren't for everyone, but I knew I needed more education and I needed training for employment. Getting an MFA at the program I chose meant that I've gained experience teaching composition in a college classroom.  And it took me two years in the MFA program to come out of the genre closet and tell people that I'd much rather write fantasy than gritty realism.

Jeanne Cavelos: I’ve always written stories, but when I was young, I thought that writing was frivolous, simply for entertainment. So I thought I had to do more with my life–to boldly go where no man had gone before, make some great scientific discovery. ... I stuck with my career goal through college, majoring in astrophysics and math, doing graduate study in astronomy, and working at NASA. Finally, as I rushed home from work each night to write, I realized that I was more interested in exploring the big ideas of science through science fiction than in doing research in a narrow discipline of science. I decided it didn’t matter whether that was “frivolous” or “important”–it’s what I wanted to do. That occurred when I was in my mid-20s. More here.

So what's your story? Why are you doing what you're doing?

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