DIY MFA Part 2: My Big Kid Pants Don’t Fit… Yet

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Excuse me, Provost? Yes, I think there must be some mistake. I thought I ordered ‘Big Kid Pants’ for graduation but all I got was this shapeless gown and a funny hat with a tassel.

When I was a young girl, I despised writing… book reports (hah, gotcha). In fourth grade when my mother discovered I had neglected to write over twenty, one-page reports for a book we were reading in class, first she sat me down and made me write them. With her. All night. And second, every day on the way to school, she made me say ‘I love writing book reports. I love writing book reports.’ fifty times over in the car.

Fascinatingly, eight years later I became an English major who elected to take extra lit classes.

If anything in life were to show me the simple power of the pen, that moment was it. With words you can rewrite your world. You make the world what you tell yourself it can be.

In the DIY MFA mindfulness manifesto, we are given several principles to digest that make good sense to me: your resistance to a project could mean it will be a breakthrough project, writer’s block doesn’t exist, don’t compound your failure with feelings of guilt, and one writer’s best practice may not (likely will not) be yours. These all seem like good tools to have in a mental toolbox for motivating oneself to write, to write the way you do best, and to write without guilt.

But I struggled with some of Pereira’s phrasing – particularly “Sometimes you desperately want to write but you just… can’t…when you sit down to write, you freeze.” Pereira states that the solution to this bewildering resistance is to ‘put on your big-kid pants and write’. You and what words, Pereira? Seriously, though – how?

 I know this feeling of freezing, having written about that anxiety in my post on The Perpetual Writer’s Block. Unfortunately ‘just writing’ when frozen is as alien a notion to me as asking a drowning man to put on his big-kid pants and just breathe.

Trust me, if that was an option, I would.

Hopefully, Pereira expounds on this foundational principle later in the book – on how to get your big-kid pants on and break the ice, so to speak. However, I sense this is the attitude of a senior writer speaking almost condescendingly to a novice, forgetting the distinct helplessness of those fledgling moments. I believe it is the practice, practice, practice that Pereira rightly espouses later in the orientation section that teaches one how to break the ice (or avoid it altogether), not any momentary mental gymnastics. Just like my mantra on book reports took eight years to turn me into an English major, so too does learning to break the writing freeze take considerable time and effort.

Writing daily is like repeating the mantra ‘I can write at will’ in your head and the more you do it, the less likely you are to get frozen. Unfortunately, the point when you may be most frozen – as a novice – is when you have the least support, community, etc to help you ‘put on your big kid pants’ and move forward. Younger writers must be given real strategy, not condescending metaphor, to train themselves to get past these frozen moments. This may be especially important for young hopefuls coming out of academia where external motivators were a sole source of motivation and, without pressing deadlines, these post-education writers are forced to suddenly develop sufficient internal motivation overnight.

Are you a senior writer who still struggles with the feeling of being frozen – a junior writer who has uncovered tactics for pushing on past the ice? Share your tips with me below – I’d love to hear them. Until then, I’ll just practice, practice, practice!

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