MFA on the Beach: Writing Tip #1

I’ve decided I’m going to try my hand at writing advice/exploits that have helped me along the way. I’m sure others have written about these. But why can’t I touch on them too?

Today, my tip is something I learned before my graduate program. Yes, the education started early! Before I was a Writer with an MFA, I was a Writer at University. And I had the good fortune to be in a Humanities Department that had its own MFA program. With it, I had access to the directors of that program as faculty, including professors on the poetry side, and Teaching Assistants who taught creative writing courses to us undergraduates.

It may have been during intermediate fiction: one tip was to never use our first idea. Use maybe the fifth or sixth one. Now, you can take this any way you like. To each her own. But I’ve found how this works for me, what I have to look out for: what we default to is the generic. It’s going to be an echo of something we’ve seen before, or it’s not going to have the depth and detail it needs to distinguish itself as a scene from my story as opposed to that TV show last week or that movie from the year before. Example: Have you ever started a television episode where something absolutely bizarre happens, and you’re completely confused, only to have the scene end and the next scene is set “48 hours earlier” or something like that? Then the episode is supposed to take you back to that bizarre scene and how it ends.

That happens a LOT doesn’t it? It’s not something we’ve only ever seen one time.

It’s a great tool. I won’t knock it. If it’s a TV show I like, I sit through it.

The thing is, with writing, if you’re submitting a story, you probably don’t want to submit the story with the ending or beginning that an editor has seen a lot. You want to submit the story that the editor has never seen before. This is the one that will catch someone’s attention. (Granted, there are trends. But by the time you submit to a trend, if the trend has already reached the market, it’s already one or two years old.)

So, look out for that first idea. Don’t lean all your weight on it. Be flexible. I’ve known for a long time that I need to let ideas sit. Time always helps me figure things out about my stories.

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