I have an MFA in poetry. For three years I read 3-4 books a week– novels, critical theory, craft, and everything in between– plus countless essays and poems and short stories. Not to mention the endless reams of classmates’ work, student papers, and submissions to the literary journal where I served as poetry editor for some of that time. On top of all that reading, I wrote. I wrote furiously and productively, but the whole time I felt like I was pretending. Pretending to be a “literary” writer.
After my thesis defense, I gave myself some time. My then-boyfriend and I were just about to move to South Korea to teach, and I was well and thoroughly burnt out after my MFA. I binged Netflix and Hulu didn’t even pick up a book until about a month into our contract in South Korea, six months after my thesis defense. I wasn’t reading, I didn’t want to think about my career, and I certainly didn’t want to write.
And when I started reading again, I read books that fed me. I didn’t read books to impress my classmates or tomes assigned by my professors. I re-read childhood favorites and series I loved. I found the growing world of YA (this was 2012, after all), and dove in head first. And I fell back in love with words. Eventually, after another couple of months of reading books that fed me, that made me feel good, I started to write again. And once I realized I was writing a novel, I never looked back. 6 years, 4 full manuscripts, 2 proposals, and 2.5 weeks out from publication, I know that I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for that break I gave myself.
Like Cass said earlier in the week, this career is a whole-ass kind of endeavor. In order to get to the point of publication, we writers have to sacrifice a lot. We give up socializing and weekends and all of our spare time. We give over huge chunks of our brain power to unknotting plots and endless hours to the hell of self-promotion. And, in the end, it’s worth it, for me.
But when you can, remember to give yourself grace, give yourself time, and let yourself be exactly the kind of writer you want to be. I want to write stories about grief and siblings and perseverance. I want to play with the high drama of teenaged emotions. That’s what I want to write right now. And maybe someday I’ll want to write poems again, though the urge hasn’t struck me anytime in the last 6 years.
Kaitlyn Sage Patterson
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