Giving Up Cake

I am coming down off of my first year as an MFA student in writing. Or am I resurfacing?  A little of both, I guess.  Parts of me feel empty, and other parts of me feel full. This work is humbling, emotional, existential. I learned a lot about myself through how I present on the page. What I am working on in my writing I am working on in life: trusting the reader, holding on loosely, being diligent with the moment, letting go of control and agenda and playfully realizing that nonfiction is a form of fiction. The professors I had this past semester demanded clarity and simplicity. They tried to help me see that a story can only move toward transcendence if it fully commits to the immanent details of what happens in one moment. At one point, I was told to stop trying to eat a whole gorilla in a single bite. At another point, I was told to stop using sentences that are cake. I managed, if nothing else, to improve how I want to improve. I write about writing, here, only because what my professors taught me this spring, I think, it universal. We are all on this journey, trying to write our little legends to nod to the mystic nature of reality. It is good work. Here are some nuggets from my mentors that I will keep in my back pocket:

You can only cast magic if you write grammatically.

Your work needs to connect with the collective consciousness of society. That is no small task. But do not take for granted that you have to communicate. You have to entertain.

To write something simple and clear and honest is the hardest thing to do.

Keep it empty.

Have your writing go slower than your mind is going.

Be strong in your capacity to withstand your own silence.

To write, you have to have the conviction, the melancholy and the belief that you have something to say.

Why don’t you just say what happened?

The world is saturated with memories at the door of oblivion that need to be rescued.

Use language to liberate a feeling.

New crystals grow where there is a fault in the old.

No one wants to be stuck in your head.

You have to be a traveler, not a tourist.

Don’t tell a story just because it happened.

Work for the small truth and if you do it well enough, the big truth will be conveyed.

If you stare at something long enough, you will learn something about yourself.

Be inspired by your subconscious self and then work your ass off with your rational mind.

We are writing memories, not history; we are writing characters, not people.

In every atom there is the whole world.




4 thoughts on “Giving Up Cake

  1. Thanks for this — your writing here is so helpful for me! I love these reflections, and want to keep encouraging you.

  2. Great observations, Ellie. Indeed, to write something “simple and clear and honest” is incredibly hard. I appreciate your candor.

    Please share the word with any MFA friends working in poetry that my co-editor and I are reading submissions through the summer – I hope you and Dan are having a great summer with some interesting travel.

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