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Duke grad Maria Kuznetsova discusses fiction writing as a way of life

Duke graduate Maria Kuznetsova returned to campus last week to participate in the talk "Fiction Writing as a Way of Life."
Duke graduate Maria Kuznetsova returned to campus last week to participate in the talk "Fiction Writing as a Way of Life."

Maria Kuznetsova never had a doubt about what she wanted to do with her life. She always knew that she wanted to write.

As one of the two participants of the "Fiction Writing as a Way of Life" event hosted by the English Department last Wednesday, Kuznetsova discussed fiction writing with Blackburn visiting professor Lucy Corin.

"People asked whether I had considered other more stable or lucrative careers, but at the end of the day, I couldn't see myself doing anything but writing," Kuznetsova said in an interview with the Chronicle.

A native of Kiev, Ukraine, Kuznetsova moved to the United States when she was a child. After graduating from Duke, Kuznetsova earned an MA in fiction writing at University of California Davis and an MFA from the Iowa Writer's workshop. Her debut novel, "Oksana, Behave!", will be released in March 2019. 

Kuznetsova spoke with The Chronicle about fiction writing and how to get into the field. 

The Chronicle: How did you know becoming a writer was what you were meant to do?

Maria Kuznetsova: I've known since I was a young immigrant who read books, and later, in elementary school, wrote stories to make sense of my life in America. There wasn't one "a-ha" moment, though I don't remember ever wanting to do anything else.

TC: What are some ways you recommend getting into writing during or after college?

MZ: It's important to set up a writing routine during and after college — during any phase of your life. You have to treat it like a job, and put in your time at your desk even if you feel like nothing is happening. I give myself a few hours a day to just write, when I have the time, or occasionally aim to hit a certain amount of words, like 500 a day. Even if everything I wrote that day was terrible, I can say I tried.

TC: Do you believe an MFA in writing is worth it? 

MZ: I do! Not only did I have the time to write, but I learned so much from my teachers and classmates and wouldn't otherwise be the writer I am today. An MFA can also help you make connections for the purposes of publication, so this was also helpful for me at Iowa.

TC: How did it feel to have your book published? What was that process like?

MZ: It feels amazing and surreal to know that my book will be published in March. The process took a while — from completing the book to finding my agent to revising the manuscript before sending it out to editors. The process of choosing an agent and an editor was exciting but stressful, because it felt like there was a lot at stake and I had to pick the person who understood the book the way I understood it.

TC: Do you have any other tips and thoughts you'd like to share?

MZ: One thought is that for students who are considering getting an MFA — don't do it until you feel confident about yourself as a person, and at least somewhat confident as a writer. Get some work or life experience first - it will make your writing richer and will also make you appreciate the time you have to write when you're back in school.