For the past several weeks I’ve been working diligently on my application for graduate school, and just yesterday I delivered it to the post office. I decided quite a long time ago that I wanted to get an MFA in creative writing but I needed to take care of a few things before I could go through with applying. Most importantly, I needed to wait until the timing was right for my family. And on the more technical side, I needed to finish my bachelor’s degree, which was unfortunately a little more complicated than it should have been.
Now I have earned the elusive psychology degree (they tell me the actual diploma is in the mail) and I can pursue the MFA. Although I’ve been writing for quite a while, I believe this next step, assuming I get accepted, will allow me to really immerse myself into a writing community and grow, something I’ve been craving for a long time. And as far as my family goes, well to them I feel infinitely grateful. They have supported me in every possible way, from listening to me fret over having to take statistics to not taking it personally when I’ve had to lock myself away for several hours at a time.
One of the requirements for the application was to write an essay with an explanation of why I write. Since I’m about to invest a tremendous amount of time and my family’s resources into writing over the next few years it’s good to consider just why I’m doing it. Every time I ponder that difficult question though, I seem to come up with a different answer, and each answer feels a little vague.
Sometimes writing feels like a very selfish act. After all, it’s time consuming. And time spent with my notebook or computer is time that’s not spent on tasks that are also important, like working at my job that helps pay the bills, or cleaning the house, or sometimes spending time with my family. In fact there are times when there are about a million things I feel like I should be doing instead of writing. And what makes me think I could possibly contribute anything of importance in a world where there is so much information out there, in a time when we already have to filter through so much junk in order to find something meaningful?
Answering the question of why I write could easily make me lose heart. But last June, at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, Nancy Lord in her closing talk gave some advice that has helped me when I start feeling guilty for spending so much time on writing. She said to think of writing not as something selfish but as a gift to give. She said, “The time you put into writing is not self-indulgence, not navel-gazing; you will write something to share with others, even a small number of others, even one other person, that will present a fresh idea, brighten someone’s day, help create empathy, be simply beautiful. The time needed to create such a gift needs no defense.”
I’m not using Nancy’s words of wisdom as an excuse to neglect my family or all of my responsibilities, but I am using them to give myself permission to prioritize writing. I can only hope the things I write, or the gifts I give, reach people in some way. Each piece of writing has the potential to connect me with someone else, and ultimately, at least for me, that’s what it’s all about.