Getting an MFA is Ruining my Writing

Portraits of Erotica from the Start of the XX Century (4)Some of you have been with me since the beginning and remember me when I used a different pen name. I published three short stories and two novellas under that name and they  performed remarkably well. At one point averaging 20,000 downloads per month on Amazon alone. Life happened to me in a big way and I wanted to let go of everything prior to that point in my life and I decided to reinvent myself as Elene Sallinger – still a pseudonym, but a new one.

Coinciding with all this, I embarked on acquiring my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My first terminal degree, and – someone shoot me if this changes – my last degree. I was psyched. Finally a degree I wanted (all three of my previous degrees are in business, up to and including an MBA). I couldn’t wait for the literary discourse, the communion of writers and individuals all with the same goal in mind.

I never counted on it ruining my writing!

I came into the program confident in my writing skills while firmly convinced there was room for me to grow. My only formal writing training was in crafting children’s stories and I want to write for adults. I also want to write outside of the Erotica genre. I have several creative non-fiction books planned along with a romantic thriller duology and a few literary fiction novels as well. I felt I could benefit from the dedicated critique and literary viewpoint I would be exposed to.

I didn’t count on the bias that most people would bring to the discussion of my work. I’ve been insulted. I’ve been called a hack. I’ve been told by one classmate they were “surprised I could string two cohesive sentences together.”

Why? Because I don’t hide my erotica background. Why should I? I am a professionally published author. I have four novels to my credit and two more under contract. I’ve held my head up high and continued on.

Despite myself, the criticisms have sunk in. They’ve burrowed in like a tick. I find myself second guessing every sentence. I stress over every scene.

I used to just write and worry about clean up after. I once wrote 10,000 words in a single day. The stories came pouring out. I channeled them, letting the characters do as they saw fit. Now, I feel stretched thin.

I. Hate. It.

I write erotica by choice, not by default. I love the exploration of human sexuality. I think the world at large could benefit from healthier sexual attitudes. I write to foster those beliefs. I feel like at some level, this passion has been tainted by the harsh criticism I’ve received where bias against my chosen genre was masked as valid criticism of my writing technique. And, even though I know this, it’s crept under my skin.

I’ll get past it. I’ll get through it. But, I just handed off my latest novel, Reflection, to the editor and I’m not nearly as confident in it as I was in Awakening. That pisses me off.

*sigh*

This is much more of a rant than I intended, but I needed to vent.

Thanks for humoring me!

27 thoughts on “Getting an MFA is Ruining my Writing

  1. I am so sorry! I feel you believe me, I have been in a similar place before, but it had nothing to do with writing. The best you can do is forget what others say. If a person wants to insult you and put you down. Know that the insults are coming from a place of fear and insecurity. They are afraid of you because they see in you something about themselves that they can never be. You are brave for putting your identity as an erotica author out there, I applaud you for that. How many of your critics will get anywhere besides some shitty office job or a never published boring book? Critics are there to make us stronger, so stand your ground and do not let them affect you. Your critics only wish they were you. 🙂

  2. No one wants to hear criticism, but it’s even harder to take when it’s not justified. You are already an accomplished author and I’ll wager most of your critics are not. They’re probably using the genre as an excuse to belittle you, when in reality, they are likely more jealous than anything. I’ve read your works from the other pen name and I count several of them among my favorites. You’re very good at what you do. Don’t let others get you down! 🙂

  3. Some decades ago, I read a portion of a favorite novel to a lover who, upon hearing the conclusion of a scene, asked, “I thought there wasn’t a window in that room?” Sure enough, the protagonist had looked out the window of a windowless room. The author was Terry Brooks.

    I wouldn’t fret much about your writing. Plenty of hacks make good cash telling good stories. Not everybody gets to Anne Desclos – and her stuff wasn’t particularly articulate in French, much less an English translation.

  4. I think there’s a distillation that happens when you get a bunch of ANYONE’S together who are skilled in or on the same topic. The air of creative magic dissipates because the environment becomes too heavy with logical dissection; and that in itself pushes FEELING and INTUITION aside. Nobody reads for logic except mathematicians and statisticians and finance majors. Give me your feelings and intuition and sensuality in a book not whatever those “special”, educated assembly line writers want to give us. Fuck those who can’t see over their own biased walls, their intellects are short and stubby, unable to rise up and venture where the air is sweet. Fuck’em my friend – in a new book – Fuck’em All. That last sentence was a direct quote from the Dalai Llama. I just spoke with him about your issue…

  5. I actually have a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Not sure why, other than I really really enjoyed going back to college after several years. Try to absorb the appreciation you see for great writing in a program like that, without letting the academic twits undermine what you know from thousands of hours of writing. You know what a story is, which 9/10 of MFA graduates don’t; you know what readers are, and what you’re supposed to do for them; you know how to put your hopes and terrors on the page where they work magic on the readers who are ready for you. I admit that in my past life as an academic, I’ve been guilty of looking down my nose at the kind of “genre” writing people line up to read without having it assigned for a grade, although I hope I’m growing past that. (You go, girl.)

  6. A rant that is well worth speaking. One group of people are discriminating against another group because of what….sex? That powerful word that can reduces so many people to being childish or give them a feeling of superiority over you. Ridiculous. They are to be pitied. Embracing this important emotional side of ourselves – not to mention medical side of ourselves would do them a world of good.
    In a world where shooting someone is acceptable but talking about sex not, your a hero.
    My art is better than your art will never hold with me. NEVER!

  7. Great post and I can sure relate- grad school can be such an unreal world-people fighting for scraps and when someone comes along who can do what they are trying to do-it just increases the nonsense. Keep your head down and move forward-you are doing what you love and the rewards have followed-

  8. I totally get where you are coming from. I got my MA in English and started my PhD. And wrote creatively on the side–nothing like your status as a published author of course! Super impressed!!!!. The constant scrutiny, intense deadlines, and competitiveness (albeit in a pretty friendly way–I am inherently self-critical) just got to me and I became burnt out. Couldn’t write my way out of a box. A year later, still trying to get that creative spark back. And that’s without the pressure of defending your genre (I was writing formal essays, obviously something that the university supports! *lol*). So sorry you are going through this.

  9. I think I was on vacation and missed this post around my birthday. Regardless, I wanted to comment. I’ve enjoyed your stories immensely and have always respected your writing ability. Envied it, if I’m honest. I understand how criticism can have an effect on ones writing though. I’m glad you continue on even when it’s hard.

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