It’s an embarrassing thing to admit, but after I earned my MFA, I barely wrote for more than two years.
What’s especially cringe-making about this (for me) is that I’d been a professional writer and editor for almost the entirety of my adult life. It was my six- or seven-days-a-week practice for more than twenty years. Churning out 3,000 words per writing session was routine. I’d never, ever not written before. And here I was with a newly minted MFA (at last!) and… Nothing.
Sure, I had ideas. I even had a couple of incomplete novels underway, both of which my faculty advisors had encouraged me to complete. But whatever had made me write so doggedly for over twenty years had vanished in a puff of post-degree ennui.
Listening to the successes of fellow grads didn’t help. Although I was happy when one landed an agent, finished a novel, or got a first picture book accepted for publication, it didn’t move me to work on my own projects. Mine were grounded.
Writer-Georgia dangled over a void like a dried-up leaf in the spring.
Activities surrounding writing ballooned in importance. My critique groups were vital—even when I didn’t submit anything. Attending the events of professional organizations was de rigueur. Book signings, alumni weekends, writing retreats—I went to all without anything to show for any of the activity.
Until finally, the quiet voice of someone I didn’t know at all well and who was not a writer broke through my husk. “Why,” she suggested, “don’t you go back to the beginning? What made you want to write to begin with?”
It hit me like a two-by-four plank: you can’t write what you don’t have. “Husk” was a good term for post-MFA Writer-Georgia, because she’d written herself dry.
So I worked on filling up the writing void inside me. I reread the books that inspired me as a child writer. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Michelangelo Buonarroti, W. H. Auden, and many others became daily sustenance. I attended art exhibits, tried new recipes, went on photo shoots, knitted, embroidered, and began to create one drawing a day.
These were different types of activity. These things were creative in different ways than writing. They involved the body and different parts of my mind; they grounded me in color and form and texture and smells and stretched bits of my brain that had gone dormant.
After months of recharging, that post-MFA emptiness stopped flapping like an empty sack. I tentatively tried some tiny writing projects just to please myself. I wrote a series of very short tales based on Celtic songs and legends. Grief had been debilitating during this time, so I wrote haiku about it. I wrote a few picture books. And gradually, with some setbacks, the writing began to flow again. And the original love for it returned.
They call it writer’s block, but for me it felt far more like a death—death of my identity as a writer. Because writers write, and I could not. I did not feel blocked; I felt overcome by emptiness. And for me, that emptiness had to be filled with the things that had always served as a launchpad for writing.
I’m finishing up a novel that began life as a scene for my first residency workshop. Writing it has been incredibly fulfilling. Because I’m writing out of regained love. What I thought was dead came back to life. And I hope to make it fly.
Georgia Beaverson is a graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She runs a freelance writing/editing business called GeorgiaInk. Delacorte Press published her middle-grade novel, The Hidden Arrow of Maether, in late 2000.