Do MFA programs make you a better writer?

Maybe. Maybe not.

And before I go on, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have a love-hate relationship with advanced degrees. I’ve loved some of my advanced classes and hated others. And I remember one time when the instructor went around the first day of class asking us what we wanted out of the class (I can’t even remember what the class was for!) and my answer was that I wanted it to be the absolute last class I’d ever take in my life. Because I was sick and tired of taking classes. And of advanced degrees.

So, with that out of the way, the answer to your question depends….

If you want that MFA only in order to become a better writer, then consider how good you already are before gearing up for that degree.

It can do wonders if your writing skills are less than those of most people because part of the beauty of an MFA is that it (supposedly) lifts the student into the somewhat exclusive domain of the upper middle class and beyond, at least as far as speaking and writing are concerned and that’s what you want. So it could work.

On the other hand, it’s unlikely to help much if you already have writing skills that are equal to or better than those of your average person because you are already where it will get you as far as writing is concerned.

So think hard before you go for that long, intense, expensive degree and make sure that it will really lift you from mediocre to excellent.

And here’s another thought….

If you truly believe you are mediocre but don’t want to go through all that hassle and expense, you might consider other options that can achieve the same result. Such as volunteering in a place where educated people are already volunteering so as to watch and learn from them. Or something else — anything else — that will put you in a milieu in which you will absorb the things in an unstructured way that an MFA teaches through structured lessons.

How does one express oneself in writing a science fiction novel with an original idea so that it can impact people and never leave their minds? Take the writing style of, The Martian, for example.

You write without considering that you’re writing for people to read what you write. That way you’re more concerned with what you write than you are with how you write and your writing will flow more naturally.

You also write without considering that you’re really writing, not for your reader, but rather for the editor or publisher (bricks and mortar or online) that will look over what you wrote and decide whether it’s worth publishing or not.

In other words, you forget all the rules of writing you learned over your long and arduous writing education and write what you want. How you want. Any way you want.

Then, when you’re finished —- (of course there’s a ‘then’) —- you go back over what you wrote and figure out what changes can be made so the result will be what people want to read and what those oh-so-important gate-keepers to the writing world will publish.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a way to make such changes and then you’ll have the best of both worlds, that of the professional who writes to give other people what they want while also writing for yourself.

If you can achieve those goals, you’ll have reached a plateau of meaning and elegance that few writers ever reach.

Good luck!

Can I write a love story if I’ve never been in love?

If science fiction writers can write about worlds and times that don’t exist, then you can write about love.

All it takes is a well-honed —- and well-trained —- imagination.

Because describing something you don’t personally know without thinking through how you want to do it, is an exercise in futility and will result in poor writing.

But describing something you don’t know after thinking it through and deciding what you want to say and why you want to say it is the mark of a professional writer of fiction.

What are female character cliches to avoid?

There are no cliches to avoid, male or female. None.

Cliches exist because they clue the reader into the character being described quickly and easily. That can be a good thing because it saves time and effort that can be put to better use telling the story.

The thing is, do a good job of describing your ‘cliche’ character. Don’t skimp and do delve deeply into your character.

Because then that cliche character won’t be a cliche after all, she’ll be a living, breathing, exciting example of a specific personality type.

Why is there a need of inserting sensory details in a creative literary work? How does it affect the interest or readers in a piece of work?

Because most readers have had similar experiences and the evocation of the senses brings back those experiences and makes the story more real, sharper, and more personal.

And that’s the goal of every writer. To bring the reader into the story.

As someone born in 1996 how do I write a story set in the late 1970s?

The 1970s is a recent enough period that many people from that time are still around and in sound mental health. And most of them would love to sit around and talk your ear off about their lives.

Which is wonderful because you’ll get a real feel for that time.

And is terrible because you’ll only get a feel for their tiny part of that era.

So do your research and talk to people from that era and then take a mental step back and put it all in perspective.

Then look at the story you’re telling and use whatever helps. And ONLY what helps because it’s so easy — and literary death — to include too much detail. The background is only important to the extent that it helps tell the story.

What is the worst fiction writing advice you’ve heard?

The worst fiction writing advice I’ve ever heard —- and the best fiction writing advice I’ve ever heard — is to write about what you love.

It’s very easy to get so caught up in the enjoyment of writing about something you love that you can go on forever and bore your reader to death.

It’s also some of the best writing you can do — if you follow all the advice you’ve ever heard on the craft of writing — because your heart will be in it and that alone will make it wonderful.

Is it possible to write a novel or short story that doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes?

 It’s not a matter of stereotypes.

It’s a matter of whether the characters are described well or not so well. Good writing will turn them into archetypes and become the best and most representative of the group they belong to, whatever that group may be. Poor writing will make them stereotypes worthy of laughter and readers who put the book down without finishing it.

The thing is, if your characters are representatives of a group, they can be recognized easily and quickly by the reader and that’s a great help to the writer. Less work, less stress, fewer words for the reader to wade through to get to the story.

Use that quick recognition. It’s valuable.

Just make sure that you do your job as a writer well so your character is an archetype instead of a stereotype.

What’s the importance of making story writing a hobby?

When I first started writing as a career, I found that I ‘wrote out’ a lot of things from my past. Okay, I’ve had an easy, comfortable life but, like with everyone, there were a few things that were best gotten rid of mentally. And those memories made great stories.

Then I became a pro and learned that part of being a pro is mentoring new writers and that’s when I learned that what I’d done in the beginning is the norm and is done so much that I now (privately!) call the first part of any writer’s professional journey the ‘cathartic’ phase of their career. And those memories make great stories.

I can’t count the times I’ve read stuff by a new/emerging writer that was based on their life and that was something they had to get out of their system before going on to other subjects. And some of the best writers in history never made the transition. Think Sinclair Lewis and other American writers of that same period. And they were great stories.

The thing is, I’ve seen the same thing happen among people who enjoy writing as a hobby with no intention of ever becoming pros. Because everyone has something to write about that’s based on their life.

Because writing is cathartic. And healing. And even if you had a wonderful life, remembering all that stuff from your past is also fun. And makes great stories even if you are the only person to read those stories.

And when that cathartic phase of your writing journey is completed and you are ready to go beyond your own past and present, stretching your imagination and letting it soar is fun! And makes for great stories even if you are the only person who ever reads them.

Why don’t we write “I am going” instead of “I go?”

Most writers do write ‘I am going’ and for a very good reason.

 

Workshops always tell writers and would-be writers to use the active voice and that means writing ‘I go.’

But they also tell writers and would-be writers to write the way people actually speak and since most people say, ‘I am going’ most writers use that phrase.

So it works either way but if you ask me, always go with the way people actually speak.