I recently received my Masters in Creative Writing. I went overseas and did everything they said you should do. I wrote more than I otherwise would, and I technically “mastered” something that I learned myself. It was a cool little show that saw me living in Paris, where I spent most of my time in movie theaters, watching movies in English (there were times, of course, where I learned too late that the film was dubbed in French). I didn’t interact too much with my classmates and fellow writers, even though they were more than friendly. I didn’t talk too much with the professors, although most praised and strongly encouraged my writing. I didn’t even write too much. Most of my homework was short stories I had written or was working on years ago. And I haven’t read too much. I only bought one book, and that was because the author’s quote on the back told how Mr. Dickson Carr “went to Paris to study: that’s probably the only thing in Paris that I did not do”. Carr, it seems, partied a lot, another thing I didn’t do.
I spent a lot of time regretting coming to Paris (there were also a few instances of the occasional racism and dirty looks received, but let’s not go into that). I spent nights hating myself, regretting getting a degree that didn’t instantly make me a better writer, and alienated me from the few people I felt safe with. But I’m back in Dhaka now, and…I don’t write as much anymore.
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You see, a writer’s worst enemy is a combination of time and themselves. How much time do you have in a day to sit down and write something worthwhile? How do you make time for work, for yourself and for writing? Worse still, what do you do when you write is your work? That’s what they say about writing anyway, they’re the big ones. I can’t speak for everyone, but “time” is far behind in my enemy rankings. The biggest problem is really yourself, it’s motivation.
What do you do when everyone encourages you to write except yourself? What do you do when your work has been published and people say you write well, and that’s kind of validation enough? In our parts of the world, more than in any other, there are very few professional fields where one can call oneself a writer, especially in English. What do you do when you’ve checked these boxes and you don’t know what to do?
We can be defeated; we can stop writing; we can say “Hey, you were right” to those indifferent, disheartening people (and some of them will be friends and family); and honestly, those feelings will always come back to us. It’s every writer. But writers don’t write for those moments, we write it for those lucid moments when things fall into place. It’s that middle place that we need a bridge to, where we find ways to bone motivation. The ways of doing things work differently for different people, but the process, in essence, will be the same: you’ll have to find something that forces you to write and think about writing. In my case, it was my master’s program, whether I knew about it at the time or not.
Now, most creative writing degrees would be MFAs (Masters of Fine Arts), where the entire curriculum is structured around writing and no actual coursework beyond that. The program I followed at the University of Kent, however, have also implemented reading – reading to improve your writing, reading to better understand writing. These lessons and discussions, built around reading, were more informal. There was no real obligation to participate and no grades were lost by not reading your weekly readings. This, again, will force you to consider writing, even if you’re like me and study everything one week and nothing the next. You will at least absorb the discussion, the different thought processes, by being in that same space.
The other half of the MA – and this is where the grades are counted – is exactly what you would get from an MFA. Homework, workshops, workshops, workshops. These were the sessions I had been looking forward to, giddy with anticipation the night before. Someone actually reads your work, studies it, tells you what you’re doing well, tells you what you can improve on, all phrased constructively (“I like that!” was a no-go phrase). If you’re pursuing writing, a workshop, at one level or another, is what you’ll need.
Being a writer means you’re trapped inside yourself, tapping into your inner workings and emotions for story ideas. And it’s fair to say that everyone has their own issues that they face, and being locked in may not always be the healthiest thing. This is where other people come in. I have received great feedback from my teachers, supervisors, and classmates. Many of them, I go back again; their criticisms, their praises. You don’t grow in anything if you don’t surpass yourself. The MA, if nothing else, forced me to try more, to reverse a habit.
It’s been a few months, and I’m finally writing again, resubmitting stories, thinking of things to do again, and the fluffy text I wrote on my application essay just to get accepted (some something about “improving the literature scene of Bangladesh in terms of English writing”) is something I am actively interested in. For our writers to go abroad, or even stay here and advance their craft, we can come back and do something here. We just need something to force us to write more, and writing more will always be the only way to improve.
“My ambition is always to write a truly outstanding crime novel, which I honestly don’t believe I’ve achieved yet,” said Carr, who has written some 86 novels. This is obviously a bad example, because he was a white American and I didn’t like his book. But there is a point there. “When a writer says that, what [they] really say is that [they] want to write one that will make all other crime novels silly. Of course, you can’t do that. But you can always keep trying.”
Mehrul Bari S Chowdhury is a writer, poet and artist. He obtained his master’s degree in creative writing with honors from the University of Kent in Paris. He previously worked for Daily Star Books and is the publisher of Small World City.