I am a would-be artist, for now content in the sadistic pursuit of mastery.

I once believed in fate. It might have come from reading too many adventure books as a child. All those books taught me that I was meant for something. Some days I thought I was meant to be a movie star, some days quarterback for the Cowboys, but most days I believed I was meant to be a writer. I somehow acquired the belief that I was a gifted writer, one who simply hadn’t started writing yet. And because I was gifted, education and practice were not required.

I studied business in college. I told myself I could start writing whenever I wanted to. Gifted writers can do that. I worked and worked, moved to Europe and back again, married and had kids. During this time, I wrote here and there: flash fiction, short stories, I even set bowls of fruit on the dining table and described them, like a beginning painter. It was all dreadful. I realized that either I was not gifted or my childhood beliefs about fate were false. I learned a painful lesson, one that all of you already know: writing is hard work. I learned that talent doesn’t put words on the page and that innate ability doesn’t finish manuscripts. I learned that writing is dedication. Writing is sacrifice. Writing is late nights, early mornings. Writing is frustration. Writing is rejection. Writing is practice, practice, practice.

I also learned that I couldn’t do it alone. After a mishmash of online classes, writing conferences, and mentors, I started at Goddard in February 2016. My time at Goddard has allowed me to grow as a writer in ways I could not have done on my own. I now write with a hundred studied examples swimming in my mind. I now read a book once for the joy of reading and then a second time with the eye of a writer, studying the author’s choices, how one sentence connects to the other, and the rhythm of the prose.

Although I just received my master’s degree, I have to confess that I feel nothing like a master. The more I study writing and literature, the more convinced I become that there have been few true masters. The rest of us are merely life learners. We study and practice, we succeed and fail, moving closer to and often drifting further from that illusory goal of writing mastery. At times, our words align beautifully on the page; at others, they scatter over the blank space almost at random, without connection or emotion, as if spilled from a jar. We don’t toil with an expectation of mastery. It is the pursuit of mastery that makes us writers. It is the torment of killing our characters, the sadistic joy of gutting a scene, the hell of the blank white page. And it is the incomprehensible ecstasy when our own words, almost of their own volition, align beautifully.

I am a would-be artist, for now content in the sadistic pursuit of mastery. Even after graduation, I will continue to be a student, a life learner. I will toil daily with words, scattering them over the page, hoping a few will align in a pleasing way. Have I stopped dreaming? No, I dream every day. An imagination is something that can’t be switched off, regardless of age. I may no longer believe in fantasy, but I am learning to create it, day by day, one word at a time.

Charles Fairchild lives and works in Seattle, Washington. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in February 2018, and his work has appeared in The Pinch, The Santa Clara Review, and Bosque Journal, among others.  
The Pursuit of Mastery
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3 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Mastery

  • March 8, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Well written and inspirational. Great work, Charles!

  • March 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    So well said, Charles! Aren’t we all in the sadistic pursuit of mastery? Sometimes I think I am completely crazy for loving it.

  • March 5, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Wow, Charles. This is both beautiful and encouraging. Thank you for your words.


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