The first Day’s Night had come
And grateful that a thing So terrible
had been endured
I told my Soul to sing
Some writers get MFAs, some have degrees of other kinds, and some have none. Some attend many writing workshops, in which attendees read others’ work and make comments. Some share their work with friends or trusted readers, and some don’t share their work until, wanting to see their work published, call upon an editor, agent, or publisher.
I have taken writing classes, attended conferences and retreats, and participated in some workshops. In the beginning I found them helpful. Now I have an aversion to them. At this point, having a committee comment on my work in progress is not helpful. Work in progress is in a fragile state, as am I most of the time that I am writing.
Although ultimately most of us will want to have our work published and so will need to be receptive to many kinds of comments, while we’re in the process of creating a particular book or story we may not want or need a lot of different opinions.
But going to an occasional workshop, whether one in which people share their writing, or one in which attendees listen to established writers talk about their writing process and aspects of the publishing industry, can be both supportive and encouraging.
I recently attended a symposium at Hunter College, here in New York City. The first speaker of the day was Joyce Carol Oates. Her productivity is astonishing; she is the author of some 40 novels as well as other works. But she is someone who, although she’s written so much and is highly regarded, speaks to other writers of whatever caliber as equals. She has taught at Princeton University for many years, but she has also taught in prisons.
Other panels and writers followed; some well known writers extolled the benefits of getting an MFA, while others emphasized the fact there are many routes to becoming published authors. I liked writer Susan Isaacs’ statement that: “There are as many ways of writing as there are of making chicken soup. It’s an idiosyncratic process.”
There are thousands or millions of people sitting alone in their rooms—writing, doubting, and persisting. Some may become famous, some may toil and remain anonymous. Emily Dickinson, one of our most revered writers today, was all but unknown in her time. The same is true of Franz Kafka.
We write because we must. As Joyce Carole Oates said, there is an inward, haunted obsessive nature of inspiration, of creativity. The call seems to happen as if from without, but it comes from a deep, complex, and turbulent level of our existence.
Writing is a solitary business, and that’s the way I like it. But when we can gather together for brief periods of time, there is some comfort to be found—a welcome respite from the lonely striving to express that which lies within us.