Lit Mags and Lit Studies

I’m a writer. I was a writer. I will be a writer; I’m going to write again.

I find myself saying some version of these sentences pretty often, especially because working on Blue Mesa Review means being surrounded by creative writers who are constantly honing their craft. I wonder which of those sentences is most accurate during our monthly Works In Progress reading series. Members of the MFA program read from current projects, and I think to myself, “I have work that I am progressing on, it just isn’t creative, per se.” And I don’t know how thrilled everyone would be if I read aloud from a seminar paper, a paper whose genre, the stereotype goes, does the work of ripping to shreds the art of writers.

For some reason though, it was instinctual for me to email former EIC Ben Dolan after the first day of English Graduate Orientation at UNM, asking if I could join the team. BMR, of course, welcomed me with open arms, becoming one of the best parts of my time here at UNM, allowing me to make friends outside the normal literary studies box. Only later did I start thinking in the mode of “but I’m getting my MA, not my MFA.” It has become more and more clear to me that I am an anomaly, or maybe it has become clear to me that I am more and more self-conscious about being an anomaly as the “lit person” amongst writers.

None of the other graduate students in “Literature” (said with British accent) seem to be drawn to the unsolicited slush pile of publication dreams that is the work of literary magazines. I can’t figure out if this is only because I came from an undergrad experience where I completed a BFA thesis of stories, even while leaning more toward the analysis of literature. (I even, at one point, chose to analyze my own writing from behind the critical lens. I do not recommend this). Or is it because I get some rush out of being right on the edgy front of the most contemporary fiction? Is it simply because I’m one of the few in the Literature program focusing on very contemporary works? Or because reading short stories is my break, my happy place, a brief respite, whereas novels make up the scholarly work?

Now that I have sifted through all these thoughts in a more organized manner, musings that have been bouncing around in my head for the whole first year of my MA, I think the real question comes down to whether or not I still think of myself as a writer. If I write my dissertation on the immigrant novel, can I still write my own? I’ve said a few times that once I get tenure, I’ll write fiction. Every now and then, I jot an idea down in a blank word document or in a jumbled “note” on my iPhone. Are these the promises for the future?

But the truth is, I write all the time. I tell my students, being a writer just means that you are a person who writes. That paper that I’m sure no one wants to suffer listening to? I wrote it. And I spent a long time thinking about it. I’ve read a lot of essays, articles, think pieces, books, and attended a lot of workshops and seminars and discussions where the question of “writing process” has inevitably come up. From what I’ve gathered, there’s a lot of thinking, mapping, outlining, stopping and starting, checking Facebook, getting blocked, researching, tweeting, talking, analyzing conversations; most importantly, there’s a lot of reading. Each process seems different, but also, somehow similar, and I can’t help but feel like I do a lot of those same things, and so, therefore, I must still be writing.

Diana Filar is a second-year Master’s student in Literature at The University of New Mexico.

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