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VCFA Guest Post: Pushing the Boundaries

by Tim Martin, current VCFA MFA student

(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. You can read more about Tim and his work at If you have any questions about his post or the MFA program at Vermont College, you can contact him directly at tim [at] timmartindesign [dot] com.

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  1. Catherine Johnson’s avatar

    Inspirational post. I’m back in MG mode after a long PB stint and loving every minute. I’m writing down new pb stories between drafts, the perfect mix.

  2. LG’s avatar

    This sounds like an amazing program and I’m thrilled for you to be pushing your boundaries as a writer – and storyteller! Sometimes I feel like I’m just flapping around trying to find “my genre,” but I have the most fun when I do a few projects with different audiences – so I guess I’ll keep doing that and see what happens!


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