Here in the Converse MFA office we’re still buzzing from all the excitement generated during our winter residency session which finished up last week. And we can’t wait for the start of our Summer residency/Fall mentoring semester. Right now we’re reviewing applications for the upcoming semester, and the next priority deadline is Feb. 15, so be sure to contact our office if you have any questions about the application process. You can reach us by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or <email@example.com>.
We’re also happy to share this essay by MFA program alumna Frances Nevill on how the MFA degree can benefit writers in the workplace. We think Frances makes some excellent points. Our thanks to her for writing this and for allowing us to reprint here on our program blog.
Five Ways A Creative Writing Degree Applies to the Workplace
By Frances Susanna Nevill
When I stepped into my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program, I was often asked “What will you do with that degree?” What I desired the most was to see a major transformation in my fiction writing—to get really good at crafting story arcs and to explore a subject I was driven to understand in its most basic and most complex forms. I had no doubt I would be able to transfer what I learned as a writing student to other career paths. I believe that there are aspects of the creative process that transfer to non-artistic projects or decisions made in the workplace. Artistic creation and pragmatic business management are not mutually exclusive experiences. After completing an arts degree, I am even more convinced that what I learned as a fiction writer is applicable to the workplace. The buzz word on everyone’s lips is storytelling. An MFA degree is essence a degree in just that — the art of story. Whether we choose the genre of fiction, nonfiction, scriptwriting or poetry, MFA students practice the craft of story until they get it right. I have found five areas (although there are so many more) of what I have learned as a fiction writer converges with the workplace.
1) What Does Your Protagonist Want?
In fiction workshops, you hear this question again and again. The same can be true about your company or your place within it. Can you define, in one sentence, a mission statement of what your company aims to accomplish? Perhaps you need to ask yourself the one question: what do I want out of my career or this job? When asking these questions of characters in a story, writers often recall their own experiences to understand and communicate the answers. Similarly, identifying that one purpose is key to businesses as executives make the “big picture” decisions. Answering the big questions also helps guide the day-to-day ones as well.
2) The Intensity of a Character’s Want Drives the Action
How badly your character wants something – love, freedom, money, acceptance in the world – should drive the plot. Your character’s actions should be borne out of that deep desire whether or not it’s expressed to the reader or whether it’s known to the character. Getting to that “want” is part of the story’s plot. Editing out the unnecessary for the character in the story clears the way to achieve the “want.” Or, better yet, how the character clears their ownway to get to their “want” is essential to storytelling. The same is true of companies: how much time are you spending on things not essential to your company’s mission? The same is true of you as well: how much of your daily actions are directly tied to your goals? Are you being pulled in unproductive directions by circumstance?
3) All Writing is Rewriting
Writers are repeatedly reminded of this mantra during workshops, retreats, and classes. There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. You can aim for stronger and stronger first drafts of course, but what comes out on the page the first go ‘round is not what usually makes it into print. C-level professionals know this inherently. They have lived through the “revision” of their companies and their careers. The ability to look at the product your company is producing or the service you are providing and critique it, and handle critique from others, separates the manifesters from the dreamers. As painful as it can sometimes be, learn to expect and even welcome critique. It can help you make needed adjustments, or even suggest radical new directions. Sometimes it helps you recognize more clearly that you are going in the right direction.
4) All the Senses Apply
I once created a writing exercise called “What Does Your Treehouse Taste Like?” It asked the writer to describe their childhood hangout. I knew the students could describe what a treehouse looked like, but by asking them what it “tasted” like, it got them to explore their feelings about their youth. I received responses such as, “campfires and s’mores,” and “raindrops dripping down the rope swing.” They were seeing the treehouse less as an inanimate object and something more symbolic of their childhood.
This sensory mining is extremely important in the corporate world when gathering a group for brainstorming or problem solving. The ability to foster non-linear thinking amongst staff can yield new ideas, products, and solutions. Sometimes silence and a pen is all it takes to tap into the creative well.
5) Adaptability Breeds Survival
This applies more to making a career as a professional writer. I’ve met writers who were tied to the traditional path of publishing, and I have met writers who are blazing their own paths by publishing as indie authors. Both groups have found success. There are many paths within a journey that can all lead to the summit. You must adapt if you want to be a part of the landscape. Businesses with longevity already know this. Ask yourself this: how many of our employees are aware of our industry’s emerging trends? How and where does our staff receive national, state, and local news? Does our staff read what is happening in our industry? Are we leaders in our field and how are we differentiating ourselves from the pack? Are we stuck in old and dated patterns of thinking? Thinking about possibilities leads to creating the pathways to those possibilities and ultimately creates an environment of adaptability and innovation.
In writing, we know that no matter how much practice we have or how interesting our work may be, there is one key action we desire from readers: turn the page. Companies want that same level of engagement from its clients. Give them a great story.
Frances Susanna Nevill is an expert at community engagement through storytelling. She is a writing professor and professional writer living in Orlando, Florida. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College and has worked for lawmakers, state agencies and an international nonprofit. Follow her on IG: @floridayall, Twitter: @francesnevill, and LinkedIn.