Dilemma

This is the debate I struggle with right now: do I focus on poetry or creative nonfiction?  Virtually all graduate programs require their students to pick a specialization.  Usually, the choice is fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction.  (Some programs will include playwriting and/or screenwriting in the mix, and some programs are only fiction and poetry.) I have learnt that, despite my desires otherwise, my talent is not in writing fiction. I am good at inventing worlds but not good at getting anything to happen in them.

As far as creative nonfiction goes, one of my instructors–the only one who has seen me write in several genres–believes that my creative nonfiction is strongest, memoir in particular. The fact that my life has just been weird works to my advantage in terms of having material to work with. I am also learning this semester that I do very well at writing literary critique, so I’m not just a one-trick pony when it comes to creative nonfiction.

But creative nonfiction does not come to me easily. At all.  For two weeks I’ve been struggling to write an essay for this blog, and I haven’t got anywhere. It’s a time-sensitive issue, as it pertains to some recent current events, and I am very passionate about the subject.  But it has been like pulling teeth getting anywhere with it. Every day, the relevance of what I have to say in the essay fades a little.

Poetry, on the other hand, comes much more easily. When I sit down for some writing time, the first thing I work on is poetry, and it’s what I spend the most time on. I like how the boundaries of poetry are loose and free. I like that I get to play with the way the words feel in the mouth. I like that I can whittle a story down to its essence–all the way down to a haiku if necessary. It is also all I have managed to get published to date, and people tell me that, out of what I write, it is what elicits the most powerful reaction.

The trouble with poetry, though, is that its audience is absolutely tiny. And I do not write just for myself. I do not write because I enjoy it–though that is a wonderful by-product. As unpopular as it is to say in the writing world, I write because I have something that needs to be said. If someone else said what I have to say, the value would be the same. This idea may not be obvious in everything I write, but to date I’ve only told the thousandth part of all I need to say, and I hope that the message of all I have to say will be understood as the sum of all I write, rather than just bits in isolation. Each bit I write is like a premise in a very long philosophical argument. And I write because it behooves me to contribute to society in the best way I can. The best thing I can do is to write. To have the biggest impact possible, to me, is to have as many people reading as possible. I have trouble seeing how that is possible with poetry.

I have a few months yet before I have to submit my choice to the schools I am applying to. And I will have some classes between now and then in which I might encounter some breakthrough in my writing–heck, maybe even with fiction. And if I get into my first choice of school, I won’t even have to choose a focus. (Yeah, I’ve made great strides with my choice of grad schools and my list is more or less set.) And, of course, I can always write whatever I want–I will just have two or three years where I’m focusing more one genre. Perhaps bearing that in mind will take some of the pressure off. However, my application will have to have my best writing, and I will have to decide which genre is my best writing, maybe.

It will all come together. I just get impatient.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 22 February, 2013, in MFA, Personal life, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I understand that completely. I have a deep love for poetry, but its not the most lucrative genre of writing, its the most fulfilling for me. Sometimes you have to Fo what makes you happy

  2. I don’t care about making any money at all. It’s too late in life for me to think I have any chance at that. But when you have something very important to say, then as many people need to hear that as possible. And I don’t really care about being happy. I care about being fulfilled, and for me, fulfillment means doing my utmost to benefit the human species. For me, this means I write. Of course, it is also important for me to remember that what I write can be read long after I die, and many influential writers were not given much notice within their own lifetimes. I can only hope that the things I have to say get read before the species does itself in, and I hope that what I have to say can keep us from doing ourselves in. I figure that’s the obligation of all human beings–to preserve our species.

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