Sarah Grunder Ruiz, 2018 NC State MFA fiction graduate, is a rising tide. Despite teaching full-time and anticipating the release of her debut novel, she still makes the time to pop up in zoom windows, sharing detailed slides and advice with current MFA students. Projecting organization and endless calm, she raises all ships, generously and freely sharing what she’s learned about writing and publishing, post-MFA.
Holding my breath—mid-MFA program—I greedily asked her if she thinks that pursuing an MFA was ultimately useful in her pursuit of becoming a professional writer. Swiftly finding the tender spot, she commented that one of the ways that getting an MFA was most beneficial was pushing past the imposter syndrome. She also stressed that the experience can be whatever you want to be, and suggested making the most of the program, wringing it dry of every possible drop of help and experience. She clarifies though: “I don’t think any writer needs an MFA, but my time at NCSU’s MFA program was incredibly helpful. I’ve heard it said that an MFA can give you five years of progress in half the time. I think, for me at least, that was true!” Cue the sigh of relief.
In regards to maintaining a writing practice after finishing her MFA program, Sarah shared that she attributes her writing consistency to having kids. She said, “I stopped wasting time because I had so little of it.” She also stressed the importance of setting goals, making a plan, and then sticking to them. But clarified, “It doesn’t mean you have to write for hours at a time. I wrote my first book in ten-minute snatches of time.” Her realistic, pragmatic, and thoughtful approach to getting words on the page emphasizes making small goals but respecting your headspace. Some days, you’re just not a mental state to write. She thinks it’s important to respect that, but suggested, “Set a goal to write for 10-minutes, five days a week. If you don’t feel like writing after that 10 minutes, you can stop. But I find that it takes me about 10 minutes to get into a flow state, and then I can write for hours.”
A big part of her need for organization is her busy life. She has two kids, ages three and five, and also teaches composition at NCSU full-time. Needing a nap just thinking about it, I asked if that was hard to manage, and how that kind of mentally heavy work impacted the cognitive and creative energy she had left at the end of the day to write. She reiterated the ability to write a novel in 10-minute snatches of time, and added that she tries to write early in the morning “so that is out of the way before parenting and teaching takes the rest of my energy and attention.” So often, like other creative processes, maintaining a successful writing practice can feel arcane, unattainable, or ephemeral. What I appreciate so much about Sarah is her ability to acknowledge the creative joy of writing, but also to reach through the mystique to identify, define, and corral the process—and to acknowledge the unsexy, but necessary, roles that planning and grit play in achieving writing success.
If you’d like to learn more about Sarah, you can find her website here: https://www.sarahruizwrites.com/. Her debut novel Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships is out this November. If you’re local to Raleigh, she highly recommends purchasing it at Quail Ridge Books—one of our local bookstores—and emphasizes that it would be the perfect Thanksgiving present to crack open after stowing away the last of the leftovers.