Friday, January 27, 2012

On Trying To Be Better

image copyright Arenacreative/

Thank god for Vincent Van Gogh, who wrote, “I do not at all despise the mediocre in its simple sense. And one certainly does not rise above the mark by despising what is mediocre. In my opinion one must at least begin by having some respect for the mediocre, and know that it already means something, and is only reached with great difficulty.”

I’m entering a master’s program this summer, to get my Master of Fine Arts degree. Vermont College of Fine Arts has a program specifically for writers of children’s and young adult literature, and that’s where I’m headed. This is what people ask me about the program, “Why are you going? You’re already published.”

Well, the answer is that I’m going because I think I can be a better writer. I can read more widely than I do. I can think more deeply, write more creatively. “You’ll probably be better than most of the people in your classes,” my well-meaning friends say to me. Well, I seriously doubt that. How can you have a “best” in a roomful of artists? But even if there is a best in that room, the best can still get better.

Another friend worried that the program would limit my writing too much—make it MFA-ified. “Do you think it will be more limiting than being told to write a series about a girl who bakes cupcakes?” I asked this friend. No, it won’t. I’ve dealt with plenty of limits in my career. This MFA will be like opening the cage door for the canary. I’m not sure I’ll even have the guts to fly toward the blue sky. But at least I can hop around on the grass a little.

I love what Van Gogh wrote to his brother about mediocrity, because he’s right—it’s only reached with great difficulty. It isn’t easy to plot a book! It isn’t easy to write convincing dialogue! I’ve struggled over characterization and pacing and denouement, which I never know if I have enough of, and I’m still not a genius. But one cannot get better by giving up.

1 comment:

  1. I love the piece about mediocrity being hard. Yes. And doing our work, learning how to plot, sequence, create characters is so fun when we let go of the judgments and live in the flow of creativity. I think about this when I watch my kids draw or paint or play music. Do we think of them as mediocre?

    You are going to love your MFA program, and they are lucky to have you. Can't wait to see how your already wonderful writing grows as a result!