Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pushing the boundaries

A guest post on how we reach and grow as writers -- by Tim Martin from the VCFA Summer Blog Initiative

The third in a series of guest posts to be featured here Tuesdays in August -- by students and graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Boundaries: (noun) the boundaries of acceptable behavior: limits, parameters, bounds, confines.

These are exactly the words that steered me to the big Victorian Orphanage on the Hill in Montpelier: Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was time for me to find a place and a community to break free of personal writing patterns and see how many personal "limits" could be crossed, how many boundaries could be pushed.

I came to the right place.

VCFA's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults is a program that allows experimentation - of themes, issues, styles and platforms. I initially enrolled with a set of objectives (finish novels, explore previous ideas) but with the influence of experienced tutors, specialist workshops, and an environment of innovation, I realized I may be limiting myself. Now's the time for creative amplification!

So how, in my first semesters, am I pushing those personal boundaries?

Firstly, I'm setting aside my comfortable stock line of "I do fantasy, Middle Grade", and launching into YA realism, digital picture books, and a quirky chapter book series. New work, new frontiers. One project, possibly to be tackled this coming semester, will feature the fictional journals penned by the son of a convicted criminal. As protagonists go I don't know anyone like that, so my boundaries are already smashed. Research will be needed - perhaps within prisons, perhaps with inmates, or their families. Demographics, culture, even time and place will all be foreign to me. Yet it's clear I will be extending myself as a writer, by crossing into new genres and exploring new territory.What better way to throw myself from comfort zone to deep end?

Secondly, I'm looking into how content can jump from platform to platform: how a story can be shaped in different ways on-line, in apps, media and a variety of book styles. How does the quality of this content hold up? Is it relevant? Does it expand storytelling creatively and intellectually?

Finally, I'm excited by a specialized workshop I'm attending at this summer's residency at VCFA, orchestrated by Louise Hawes and promising to leave me with "insights into the limits of language, the music of words, and the profound nature of non-verbal communication."As an appetizer, Louise has tempted her six students with boundary-busting appeal: "Thanks for being brave, curious, and crazy enough to tackle this adventure with me."

Experimentation can feel exhilarating. It can also seem daunting if you're used to a particular genre or you've previously carved out a personal writing path. For me, it feels right. And it feels like those confining shackles are already being wonderfully dismantled.

Tim Martin is about to start his second semester in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can read more about Tim and his work at www.timothyjohnmartin.com. If you have any questions about his post or the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, you can contact him directly at tim@timmartindesign.com.

How do you feel about pushing the boundaries in your writing?  

Check back next Tuesday for the fourth guest article in the VCFA series -- Use Food to Fortify Your Fantasy by JoAnne Early Macken.


The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I'd like to push my credit limit and attend VCFA, but alas I do not want to be homeless.
Currency Challenged

FM said...

The article stimulated my mind and started me thinking about exploring new territories and challenges and opening my mind as a writer to new avenues.

Joanne Rocklin said...

Uma Krishnaswami and I both realized we were kindred spirits when we read one another's middle grade novels. (THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING; ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET respectively) Both of us had pushed the boundaries in a number of ways (viewpoint, timelines, and more), had received initial strong criticism from colleagues and editors, and when the books were released, starred reviews. And we both wrote our books with joy. See Uma's blog for more about our process: http://umakrishnaswami.blogspot.com/2011/08/process-talk-conversation-ahead-with.html

Anonymous said...

Creative amplification--I like that, Tim. VCFA certainly does that for us all. Pen and Ink, the MFA is not the only option. There are conferences that may be more affordable for you and will allow you to sample those conversations that can enrich your writing. Joanne, excited to talk to you about process and product and filling in the gaps between.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Dear Uma,
We'd like to apologize for the comments written by Currency Challenged. He's our Mexican-In-Residence and token male of the group. He comes from a broken home and, as a hobby, feels sorry for himself. We've been trying to get the poor boy out more often, but, well...men. You know how they are.
The Management

Kathy McCullough said...

Great post! Inspiring. I can see how pushing (and breaking through) boundaries could really energize your (my!) writing. :)

Rita said...

Lovely! And inspiriting. Thanks for the thought provocation!!

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Thank you so much for commenting: representatives of The Pen and Ink Blogspot, FM, Joanne, Uma,Kathy and Rita. It's such a pleasure to host the VCFA summer blog initiative. I'm finding it very inspiring myself.