Ashleigh Young (Writing for the Page, 2009)
Almost more than the writing, I loved thinking deeply about what I was reading…Some of the writers I discovered on the way feel formative to me now.
Ashleigh writes: 'It is hard to convey how important my MA year has been to me. It instilled in me the understanding that there is no formula for good writing, and the strange comfort that writing can work on its own terms, flouting every rule on every "how to write good" list. The workshop room is a place to find those terms on which the writing works: where it is at its strongest, its most interesting, its most "itself", and learn ways of teasing those qualities out of the rest of the piece. The workshop room is of course also a place to break things apart and put them together again.
'I was struck by the generosity of my supervisor Chris Price in encouraging me along with my peculiar project: a book of essays about, loosely, "feeling awkward". The danger was always that it would turn out to be "writing a book as therapy". With their beady eyes and firm-but-gentle criticisms, Chris and my generous classmates assisted me through this dangerous territory. They belayed me with a trusty rope as I hopped down a rockface.
'Almost more than the writing, I loved thinking deeply about what I was reading, through the keeping of a reading journal. Chris sent my reading into wonderful places. Some of the writers I discovered on the way now feel formative to me now. Murky ideas that I'd had about the telling of stories began to gain clarity. I saw new possibilities in how I could be as a writer, and that I didn’t have to be just one sort of writer.
'Although my long-suffering essay collection remains unpublished for now*, I'm heartened that the IIML itself acknowledges that every writer moves at a different rate. Just as there is no easy formula for good writing, there is no formula for success as a writer. Publishing a book is, in some ways, a tiny part of it – there are so many places to be a writer outside the covers of a book. The MA gives you the tools and confidence for finding your own way.'
Bio: Ashleigh Young is an editor, essayist, and poet. Her essay collection Can You Tolerate This? won the Adam Prize in 2009, and a piece from the collection, 'Wolf Man', won the Landfall Essay Competition the same year. Her first collection of poetry, Magnificent Moon , was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (THWUP) in 2012, and her work has appeared in Sport, Best New Zealand Poems, The Griffith Review, Five Dials, Tell You What, and IKA. From 2013-2016 she co-convened a workshop in science writing at the IIML with science writer Rebecca Priestley. She blogs, mostly about cycling, at eyelashroaming.com.
* Can You Tolerate This was published by THWUP in 2016. In 2017 it won a Windham-Campell Prize from Yale University and Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. In February 2018, she was made an Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors' Waitangi Day Honours. A US edition of Can You Tolerate This was published by Riverhead Books in July 2018.