Learning by doing

This summer I have been lucky enough to be able to work on my novel between 10 and 20 hours a week. And I’m struck by how much progress I’ve made. This summer has reinforced something I knew already, but I have to keep reminding myself: that writing takes a lot of time, and there is no way to learn but to actually do it.

I bring this up because I’m in a creative writing MFA program and there are so many ways I convince myself I’m learning how to write without actually writing anything. Last semester I spent at least 25 hours a week reading and analyzing how the stories I read were put together. I also had an editing internship, which was about 6 hours a week. And I was taking more than a full load of classes. I was incredibly busy and I tried to rationalize that the work I was doing would make me a better writer. But how much time did I spend actually practicing the things I learned? Almost none.

There are many other things related to writing that provide instant gratification, like watching good films or reading or doing well on a college paper or writing a news story or even blogging—but none of those will give you a finished short story. There will always be times when I think I am going somewhere, but I am actually spinning my wheels. The only thing to do is recognize when those times are and make a change.

The change I will be making is to take fewer classes next semester (I’m going to limit myself to three graduate classes) and to dedicate my mornings to writing. This summer I realized that the only way I can make sure I write, is to make it the first thing I do in the day. Wish me luck.

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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