So, past self, you must be wondering why I’m getting in contact with you. It has been a while, after all. A whole year.
It seems like no time at all since I was you, looking ahead at the final year of our Creative Writing MFA like Sisyphus looking at the mountaintop. A lot has changed since then and you are now about to graduate. That’s why I thought I should get in touch. I want to let you know what you’re getting yourself into, and maybe make you feel a little better about it all.
For you it is still 2015. You’ve yet to finish your first year. You have, if I remember correctly, only just started writing the first few chapters of your thesis, your first novel. (I’m sorry to say, those pages you’re writing right now, they don’t make it in to the final piece. In fact, they’ll be discarded in the next few weeks. Better get used to that.) You’re excited. You’re hungry. You’re getting nervous about the flight back to England and your months of thesis-related solitary confinement. What a literary journey you’re going to go through.
You have, according to your professors, an average of about three pages a day to write over the course of this summer if you want to stay on track. Don’t worry, I thought that sounded terrifying too, but you do manage it. Even if it takes a glass or so of cheap wine to get you through each day and the reward of a cookie to write each new sentence.
I remember you telling people that you weren’t confident about starting, but you also weren’t necessarily anxious. You said you weren’t worried about the thought of writing a first draft of a novel in one summer, because then when you weren’t invited to parties you could at least pretend you had turned them down to write. (You’re not funny now either, by the way.) Besides, you added, it’ll be easy. It’s just putting words on paper. It’s all in here, you said, tapping your temple with your index finger. A year of introspection, too, will be a welcome thing, I remember you saying, laughing nervously, not actually sure whether you could come out of that alive.
You do come out of it alive. Spoilers. But now I’ll let you be the judge of whether it was worth it. Ready?
You no longer drink copious amounts of coffee or alcohol. Midway through your three-hundred pages you realized that the best way to cope with not liking what you’d written was to write something better, rather than gather false confidence through white wine. And the best way to write more was to sleep for eight hours and wake up early, rather than stay up until three in the morning drinking coffee.
You’ve started running. Not because you suddenly have a new found love of exercise. God no. It’s because now you spend six or so hours sitting at your desk feverishly writing. That’s what you do for fun. As well as making sure your blood actually keeps pumping around your body, running also keeps you sane. As Will Self said, “The writing life is one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.”
A life of solitary confinement is a punishing one, even for those of us who do willingly apply. Staying sane, ramming your brain full of endorphins after a run around the park, is vital. Maybe you should begin now, my past self, and cut that insanity off at the bud.
I also now have a sweater that’s only purpose is to be worn while I write. That’s not much of an achievement, past self, but I thought you might like to know.
Anyway, I’m sure you don’t care about your future daily routine, but more about what you are like as a writer. Has this year, this thesis, this MFA helped? Are you a better writer, oh, future version of me? you will be wondering.
Well, I am too modest to say yes. So instead I will say that I am hungrier. I am more passionate. Now I have a draft of my first novel I have at least gained the confidence that comes when one writes and finishes something long without completely losing faith in literature, art and the self. And that, I’ve found, is half the battle. Or at least the first part of the battle where the plans are drawn up and everyone hurrahs and convinces each other that they’re not necessarily going to die a horrible death in the actual battle.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I feel good. You will feel good.
Right now, more than anything, I feel relieved that I am done with education and about to enter the New York literary scene as a former, rather than current, student. But that relief is only because of the work you will put in, past self. I would suggest that you take the time to really appreciate not having to think about the job search and not having to worry about where your weekly dose of socializing will come from once the graduate course is over. You, you lucky thing, should focus on the fact that you can write a short story or an essay with the knowledge that your classmates and professors are contractually obliged to read it. Oh, will I miss that.
The main reason I’m writing to you now is, as you will have guessed, terror. So, do me a favor, just make the most of this year. Write well, write often and prepare yourself for the real writing life. The one they always warned us about. The one our old professors always told us was only for a tiny percentage of the class. The one I’m about to go into. But, after the year I’ve had, the one in front of you, it already feels worth it. You just wait.
Josh King is a second-year MFA student at Adelphi University in New York, and moved from the UK in 2014. He divides his time between writing fiction and sampling the New York literary scene. He also writes a column for London’s Litro Magazine.