It’s that time of year when students are coming back from Vermont College where one can attend the low residency and walk away (after lots of writing and reading, a few dances, plus invaluable lectures) with an MFA. Ten-ish days learning at the feet of greats. Here’s what Colin Murcray says about his experience.
In late 2014, after finishing a draft of my fourth novel, I found myself floundering in a well of self-doubt and fear. My draft had turned out really rough, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that my writing was getting worse, not better. I know I’m not the first writer to have such feelings, nor will I be the last. But what I didn’t know at the time was how normal they were, nor did I have any idea on how to move past them. So I didn’t write. And the more I didn’t write, the more I panicked.
Then I received a promotional email about the writing for children and young adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve looked at that program numerous times, but not until I hit rock bottom did I consider actually applying. Fast forward to January 8th, 2015, when I found myself on a plane in route to Montpelier, Vermont and my first semester residency.
It had been twenty years since I had been a college student, and it was with no small amount of apprehension that I walked into my sparse dorm room and plopped down my belongings. I was far from home and family, on a campus that seemed frozen in both time and ice, and surrounded by strangers. But before long, those strangers dragged my story from me, nodding with understanding and sympathy and offering words of encouragement.
As I attended lecture after lecture on the craft of writing, listened to an inspiring speech by the legendary Katherine Paterson, and workshopped pieces with a dozen other writers, I felt a flicker of hope. By the end of the residency, I was ready to get back to work, armed with two dozen new friends and a confidence that my work was much better than I’d thought. More importantly, I had the knowledge and support group to help me make it even better.
This experience has led me to understand the importance of community. While not all of us can afford the time and costs to attend a two year writing program like VCFA, we can take part in the next best thing. Conferences and workshops offering a less intensive, but immensely valuable alternative for recharging our batteries. We can also find our support group among the people who attend them. My two closest writing buds I met through conferences. The point is, we are better writers when we rub elbows with other writers. Sitting in our home offices, just us and our keyboards locked away from the rest of the world, may seem like a romantic writing life. The truth is, it’s darn lonely, and the only voice we often hear is the one telling us we are no good, that we are wasting our time.