Stop learning ‘how to write’ (so you can actually write)

Years into my writing journey, I decided to my very first writer’s conference. I had never before even attended a simple writing workshop. I should really learn more, I thought. Imagine how great a full day of mingling with writer’s and attending sessions would be.

I sat at a table with eight brilliant women listening to lectures. The people at my table discussed the MFA programs they’d attended, the books that had taken 10 (sometimes 20) years to write, and the right way to structure an essay (a book! an op-ed! a short story!). I filled up with anxiety, feeling compelled to write down all the important facts and formats they spoke about with authority. They discussed how many hours it took them to write an article (sometimes 40!) and with which sentences never to start a story and how to structure a book properly. I had committed every possible offense.

I kept completely quiet and just kept nodding. I had only a high school diploma. Nothing more than a few semesters of community college after that.

As soon as the moderators called for break, walked out side, exhaled, and Googled “What is an MFA?” I laugh now at my serious naïveté, but I’m also thankful I had it. An MFA, I found out, was a professional writing program to teach people how to write “right.” This is where they learned all the things I hadn’t done or even known about.

Thank goodness.

I gathered my belongs without even saying goodbye to my table-mates, I left. I vowed never to try to learn to write again. I just kept writing.

Four books and many essays later, I may still not be doing it right. But I am doing it.

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