It is the end of an era.
Okay, well, maybe that was a *leetle* dramatic. But it kind of feels that way. I just finished my first six-month semester in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
How does it feel? Oddly, bittersweet. I survived the first semester, which…thank God…but I will now be leaving behind my first–and fabulous–mentor.
I decided to post this week about two of the best things she taught me this semester:
1.) It’s All About Whether You’re Feeling It
You can have all sorts of discussions about why a scene or a section of a WIP isn’t working, but at the end of the day, all of this talk usually boils down to how you felt when you wrote the piece. If it felt true and right when you put the words on the page–if you had that electric feeling that comes when the writing is flowing–then the end result will likely reflect that. I noticed time and again this semester that when a piece felt “off” to me as I was writing it, no matter how hard I tried to pretty it up later, it showed through. My mentor could always pick these pages out easily from the rest. What I took away from this? Rely on your gut–your instinct. When something starts to feel off in a WIP, use that as your guide to go back and regroup, and to figure out where you got off the path or what it is you’re really wanting to say.
2.) Sometimes, breaking free of outlines and grammar and syntax can get you closer to the truth of what you want to say
I was surprised to learn that amazing things REALLY can come out of shrugging off the editor’s hat, the grammar rules, the strictures of linear thinking. It is always about striking closer to the heart of the thing–this is something I came to understand at a deeper level this semester. What is it you want to say? What is the truth of it? The heart of it? That is what you want on the page. Give yourself the freedom to free-write and explore your characters without worrying about whether it will be “in the story” or not. When you’re not thinking about plot or putting perfect, clever sentences onto the page, it’s amazing how your characters can step off the page and speak to you.
Those are my words of wisdom from my first semester in the MFA program at Vermont! Do you have any writing “truths” you’ve discovered this year? I’d love to hear them in the comments!