This past March I attended the AWP Conference in LA. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a four day conference with dozens of workshops, panels, readings and whole heap of networking with fellow writers, teachers, and publishing industry savants. It’s one of the largest literary conferences in America (FYI, I’ll be speaking at two panels next year in Washington D.C). As I made my way through a sea of fellow writers, there was one noticeable difference I had from about 65% of them: I didn’t have my MFA. I wasn’t even an English major in college. I was a film student for both undergrad and graduate school. Standing amongst writers re-living their grad school experiences, I felt a little out of place and started to question if I belonged in a room with the greats or should I go back to school and earn my new title of Author.
Ask anyone from my Mom to my elementary and high school classmates, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories on the fly, poems, full screenplays, and books (that will never see the light of day). At eighteen, when it came to choosing what I wanted to major in, what direction my life should head in, I became unnerved by stories of homeless, broke, bitter writers, some who never published a thing. My fear of failure trumped my passion, so I turned to my second love, my love of film, so not to be completely removed from the art of creating a story. But the dream of being a writer never left me. It sprung up every time I read a good book or watched a powerful film, based on a book. I found myself sneaking in time to write short stories on weekends and during vacations, until the short stories grew to 80,000 words.
When I finally began to seriously pursue my first novel, people assumed it would be a drastic career change. I argued, a story is a story, whether it’s on screen or on paper but I was wise enough to identify the transition from the film world to the writer world would require more than just a good tale. So I attended writing workshops and seminars, read craft books and dozens and dozens of fiction novels, targeting genres that would help me find my voice. Sure, this helped me with the craft of writing, but what about the business side? I didn’t just want to be a writer, I wanted a writing career.
There was an article on Inc.com, how the world’s top business leaders, despite their hectic schedules, spend five hours per week doing deliberate learning, whether it’s through reading or experimenting with new ideas. It helps them grow and keeps them ahead of the curve. I applied this same philosophy to my writing career. I spend at least five hours a week reading up on industry trends, combing through writer friendly blogs, meeting up with writing mentors, and listening to podcasts. I followed my agent’s blog long before I knew she would be the one!
The moral of this story: With self-discipline, self-education and ever learning, you can have a great writing career. You don’t HAVE to go to school unless you truly want to. I’m not saying if the opportunity presented itself, I would turn it away. But currently, I’m happy with my journey.
I didn’t get an MFA but I’m still an author.
(Let me repeat that for the people in the cheap seats.)
I said, I didn’t get an MFA and I’m still an author.