Words on Canvas

5 (of Many) Things I Learned During My First M.F.A. Low-Residency

After attending a 10-day low-residency at Antioch University Los Angeles there are thoughts I gathered, retained, and changed due to the experience. A low-residency is an intensive marathon for writers who have lives and cannot necessarily attend college full-time. For years I was hesitant about a low-residency versus a traditional Graduate School experience. Here is how I feel now about writing and being/living as a writer.old-typewriter

1. You don’t need a degree or a program or a system to be a writer. A writer must physically sit down, block out the world, have a story in mind, and write. They must write first drafts to be bad so that their soul can be content with its release, and then later go back with craft in mind and bring that draft to life the way it was initially conceptualized (or allow the writing to take its own form, craftily guiding it along the way to fruition).

2. Culture matters. As a writer and a person it is important to grasp the idea of The Other in society in order to ‘Write What You Know’—what I mean is that, in searching for identity and the ability to write from the heart I believe it is an ethical obligation to step outside of one’s Self and consider what it is like to be a drastically different human being. Then return to the Self and write. (This way a writer will find that: A. Their beliefs have changed about things or B. Their beliefs remain the same but at least they can be affirmed in their beliefs because they’ve taken the risk of empathizing with another human being in order to fully understand their own condition and existence.)

3. Take all advice from writers with a grain of salt while at the same time being completely open-minded. Some things will stick, some will downright make you want to walk out of the room. Only you can write the piece you want to write. Just as in other things in life, every person has a different perspective. Listen to your heart.

4. A creative writer is an artist. In the traditional sense of walking into an Art Museum to gaze at paintings and other visuals—writing is the art of language, storytelling, and narrative. We all live our own narrative experience—our own story. The act of creative writing is form the writer takes to express her own reality. I see all arts on the same playing field: visual art, film and videomaking, music, writing, performance. It takes an artist to create the things that exist which are not completely commercial. This reminds me of Van Gogh lamenting as a 16 year old dealing art from his family’s studio—“one-tenth of all business that is transacted is really done out of belief in the art.”

5. Letting go of expectations helps reach personal successThere are varying schools of thought on what a creative writer is and how writers ought to achieve their place in the world as a writer. To do art for the money…is a choice, I hope. Personally, I feel that an artist should stray away from this and do art because they have no other choice. That is what happened to me, and I ended up being able to support myself as a creative writer (ghost writing fiction, non-fiction, children’s books). It wasn’t until after I stopped trying to make money in the film and television industry that I found the opportunity to support myself doing something I love. I think this type of opportunity only comes around when a person learns to truly let go of things done for money or out of fear.

With all this said, I am thankful for my first residency at Antioch University Los Angeles. I met wonderful people whom I otherwise would never had the opportunity of getting to know. Stay in touch for more of updates and reflections on my experience with a low-residency M.F.A. program in Creative Writing.

June 25, 2016