Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Reader Question

A while back I got an email from a very kind person - one that liked my Acacia books! It began rather interestingly...

Hi David,

Excuse the personal nature of this email, but having finished your second book in the Acacia trilogy, something has awakened inside of me, a realization I've been waiting many years for.

Ah... Interesting beginning, the kind that could actually go anywhere. In this case, though, he went on to describe his college life and education, how he ended up with a very useful degree from a wonderful college, and then felt totally lost on graduation. He's now gainfully employed in a foreign land, but...

I still feel lost, incomplete and totally unsatisfied. Something's been tugging at my core, every day reminding me that I should be doing more, that there's a talent going to waste (like Dariel!)...

And what might that be?

Well, I finished The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) last night, and suddenly felt this connection. A spark was ignited and I sat there, trying to understand that feeling (perhaps you'd woven some spell from the Song of Elenet in there somewhere!?). It was more than just the thrill of having read such an amazing book, with characters that were so deep, so interesting, so much like me yet living in a richly fantastic world. It was the realization that I had parallel worlds like that living inside my head, with characters that had stories that needed to be told, that had been there all along, they'd just never met anyone like them before, like Corinne or Mena or Dariel.

Hey, I know the feeling. Actually, that's just why I started writing. I did have stories in my head that would come and go, and at some point it occurred to me that if I wrote them down they might stay and grow into something. They did.

What D is saying, essentially, is that he wants to be a writer.

I hope this is not too much to ask, but I was hoping for some guidance in terms of how to pursue this calling. I would love to pursue an MFA, so what are your thoughts on this. Is it necessary? Where could I go?...

More than anything though, I'd just like to thank you so very much for writing these two amazing novels. They are beautifully human, enticing and wholly absorbing works of literature that have inspired and awakened me to follow a new career path. I have no idea how to follow this path, but I see it now, and that's the most important thing. Thank you!


Wow. That's quite something to hear. I've had the "should I get an MFA" question before, but never framed with such specific mention of my own work. I'm honored. Although, with that, comes a certain sense of responsibility. Like, I don't want to be the cause of D leaving a good job for the perils and poverty of a literary career. Or do I?...

I checked with D that he didn't mind my sharing our interaction, and herewith I include my response.


Wow. Thanks for writing. I'm very pleased to hear how much you got from my books - and how it's prompted you to consider a new path in your own life.

You remind me of a very good writing student I had when I taught at Cal State. He was one of our top candidates, writing great stuff about his experiences in the military. I had no idea he had an interest in fantasy, but we were talking one night and he admitted that it was reading The Lord of the Rings (as an adult) that made him go, "Wow. Hey, this is amazing. This writing thing is what I want to do with my life." And he's doing it. Still in the MFA, but still writing and reading good stuff. (And, yes, he got a full fellowship, so it's his job for about three years.) So, that can happen...

I don't think anyone has to do an MFA to be a writer. The most important things are 1) that you write, 2) that you get feedback on what you write, 3) that you read and read and read, 4) that you persevere with it and stay patient. Getting a writing career going is usually a long endeavor. Even authors that may appear to arrive fully formed have likely been writing for six, eight, twelve years before the manage to break through in print. Patience is a must.

And it's also a must that you be able to live with uncertainty. There is no one best way to go about being a writer. There's no guarantee that it will happen, or that it will happen soon. I do, however, think that anyone that devotes enough time and effort to writing can make a life out of it. That may mean being a bestselling author, but odds are very much against it. It may mean being a modestly read author. It may mean being a teacher and lover of literature. It's impossible to predict ahead of time, but all those paths can lead to a rewarding life.

So what do I suggest? First off, I can't suggest that you quit your job and totally change your life around. That may be a great idea, but I wouldn't want you writing me in five years saying I hadn't warned you that making a life in the arts can be really hard. If you do really need to make a change, though, I mainly suggest that you find a way to make reading and writing nearer to the center of your life. That may mean doing it late at night after a day of work. It may mean joining some sort of writers group to get feedback from others. It may mean getting a different job, one that somehow allows you the free time to write. Or it may mean going for an MFA program.

MFA's offer three things that I think are important. 1) Joining one makes it clear to you and everybody else that you're going to focus on writing for at least a few years of your life. It's proof you're serious. 2) It means you'll get feedback and interaction with other aspiring authors. That's a good thing in lots of ways. 3) It gives you the credential to apply for teaching jobs. That's a path many writers take - teaching while they write.

If you're interested, start looking into programs. They all have websites these days. Look for programs that sound good to you. Apply to a variety, I'd say, in different areas and with different levels of competitiveness. The top programs are great, but you can also get a lot from more modest programs too - including financial aid. I wouldn't want to suggest any one program, because there are so many and they offer so many different things.

Best of luck with it all!


And that's that. What's the latest word on what D's going to do? Well, apparently he's going to get cracking on his writing and wade into the research about MFA programs. All good. I wish him the best.

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Anonymous Steven Till said...

Thanks for sharing, David. Your response was inspiring. It must be a rewarding feeling to know your writing has such an effect on your readers.

You say: "Actually, that's just why I started writing. I did have stories in my head that would come and go, and at some point it occurred to me that if I wrote them down they might stay and grow into something. They did."

At what point did you realize you really wanted to be a full-time writer? Was it during your college years as an undergraduate, in the MFA program, or sometime earlier or later in your life? Who or what inspired you to pursue writing as your career path?

11:56 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I first said I wanted to be a writer in a journal in eight grade. Thing is, I forgot about that for a few years as I hit adolescence hard.

I'd remembered again by the time I was an undergraduate, and I've been serious about writing since. I don't know where it came from or that anybody inspired it. My discovery of reading and writing feels pretty personal really, like something I struggled my own way into.

I did have some great early writing teachers though, at UMBC. They both dug my writing and pushed new books and authors on me. Kinda mind blowing.

5:10 PM  

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