No Room, No Time
August 11, 2016 § 3 Comments
We’ve been talking a lot lately about the MFA – its power, its lack of power, using the MFA as a place to polish one’s craft, to find a writing community, or as a clear-eyed shot at getting a teaching job. But in every case, the MFA doesn’t stand alone–it’s part of a writer’s life. Sometimes, a life with space and time for writing, sometimes, as Claire Rudy Foster writes over at The Review Review, a life where writing is shoehorned in in snatched moments and guilty time away from the family. Foster sacrificed to go to a low-residency MFA program, and on the first day:
The writer leading the group asked us to go around the table and, as an icebreaker, describe our work spaces. I listened carefully as the others talked about their rooms, studies, studios, and offices. They all had computers. They had privacy. Their children were in high school or older, not still in diapers. When it was my turn, I told the truth: that I wrote, one sentence at a time, with whatever was at hand. That I wrote on the bus with my son on my lap, taking him to day care before I went to yet another double shift. That I wrote on my breaks. That I texted sentences to myself. I told them that I wrote when my son went to sleep at night, staying up an extra hour to crank out the draft of another short story.
They stared at me as though I was an alien. My ears prickled, and my cheeks flushed. I was ashamed of my poverty—ashamed that I couldn’t afford what they had. Finding an apartment with an extra bedroom was beyond my reach. Taking a day off wasn’t an option for me—we needed every penny. And then, I looked at my classmates and realized that, regardless of the comforts they possessed, they were not better writers than me. They had yet to be published, much less finish a long project. They didn’t know how to work at writing. I did. And I was willing to do anything to keep writing—I had to, if I wanted to produce anything at all.
Foster’s situation isn’t uncommon–I know many writers with children, with day jobs, with the responsibility of feeding and clothing and fight-settling a family. Some with supportive partners and some with supportive families and some with very little support at all. Even those of us with time and space are always wishing for more–if only I didn’t have that business dinner, that pile of stories to grade, that friend’s manuscript to read.
But the pressure of fitting our writing into a smaller space and time can be a good thing. As Foster discovered, having to make time meant making time. I probably generated more artistic work faster as a temp, scribbling between faxes, than I do now on a long lazy afternoon. My work model is best when it’s frantic, when there’s no time to second-guess whether or not something’s going to be good–it just has to be done.
Foster’s essay is brave and true–her realization that the pressure helped her make diamonds, that the lack of time meant using her time wisely. There wasn’t space to be precious about her work, or to stop moving forward. There was only enough room to write.
Read the whole essay at The Review Review. And then use your time today–all of it.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her new book, Get Published in Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting…and Writing Better, is now available on Amazon.