MFA: Peer Review, First Crack

So, this school thing is becoming real again. I have my financial aid letter (more loans, yay!), my Blackboard is working and has stuff on it, I’ve registered for classes, and my first assignment, my peer piece, is online.

Now for the second part of that assignment: looking at the work of the other nine people and preparing myself to go in for a week and discuss everybody’s work.

Let’s be honest – when I was in undergrad, we did this every week. We’d have a certain number of people, we’d have their work, and we’d all read it, coming in with our neatly-printed copies, reviewing the work with our pens (I always used red because I psychologically have to). Then we’d say nice things about each piece (or sometimes let other people say nice things and keep our own mouths shut…), and then say some things that could make the piece better.

I’m going to use techniques I learned during that to do this first peer review, and we’ll see how much changes between now and winter – and here’s how it’s going to work for now:

  1. I’m in the process now of downloading each piece to a folder set aside on my flash drive specifically for this summer. I’m about halfway through. Yes, I’m taking a bit of time doing this, but I’ve been thinking about other things, like decorating a cake for Mum’s Day.
  2.  When they’re all downloaded, I’ll print them all. And cry a little about how much ink is being taken for one thing. And then swiftly forget about the ink when I have them all printed and stapled. Or maybe paper-clipped.
  3. With no pen in hand, I will read one selection from start to finish, considering it as a story, like any book I would read, without pausing to pick it apart.
  4.  With a pen in hand, I will read that same selection over, from start to finish, marking the particularly good or particularly troubling bits in clean, friendly handwriting, or with clear symbols. I will look specifically for patterns, habitual phrasing, character strength, and direction of the piece.
  5. I will repeat steps three and four eight times, until all pieces are marked and ready.
  6. I will find a nice folder or other carrying container and put them, clearly marked and water-proof with my other packing stuff, and read a book. Probably Anna Karenina.
  7. After the discussion and week, I will report back on how this went, things I would have done differently, and things that went well. Maybe not in that order. And I will prepare for the coming semester.

Cheers,

C

MFA Update: Preparing My First Peer Piece

When I chose my MFA program (btw, got in everywhere all my paperwork made it in!), I had a matter of a few weeks to turn in my first writing. I had a few pieces I could polish up and submit, and in theory I could have waited for inspiration to hit (as it surely did) and start something totally fresh.

But I’ve been kicking around a piece about a pedophile who raises the girls he kidnaps in a cellar, and a detective inspector who has spent over a decade obsessively hunting him, off books, as the kidnappings he was brought in on are now cold cases. He rakes over the coals whenever it haunts him, looking for some spark, and then two more girls are taken. I even wrote a few chapters.

My writing has come a long way since I first envisioned this novel, a few years ago, and I decided my first look at the case was from the wrong angle. I was using the eyes of the DS to see the obsessive DI objectively, but it’s not from her that we get the emotion. She’s important to seeing him clearly, but if the reader is going to feel the desperation to find the girls, they need to get it from the DI. So I did something I almost never do: I rewrote the first chapter.

One of the most fun things about the rewrite is that I added in a dream sequence. Dream sequences are a fabulous tool because they allow the writer to bend reality without asking the reader to suspend disbelief. Tidbits of past information can be squeezed in without lengthy dialogue or narration, and without a flashback sequence. Dreams are more fun, more visceral, and about a million times more interesting. So instead of introducing the case and the police aspect through discussion and narration at the station, I gave my DI a dream sequence and a brief, non-descriptive conversation with his son before work.

I’ll keep y’all posted on how it goes!

Cheers

C

MFA: Success!

I may have mentioned once or twice that I was applying for MFA programs. This was my second round of applications, the first directly after finishing my BA, to traditional full-time MFAs. I did this concurrently with my MAT (teaching) applications. Needless to say, apart from one waitlist at UI-Bloomington, the teaching applications were much more successful, so I did that first.

I finished my first Master’s last May, got some teaching and subbing experience under my belt, and began the process all over again, this time with Low-Residency Programs. The difference? Instead of living there full-time, you go to a place once or twice a year, and do the rest online. This is the model I did for my MAT, and I adored it. You can work while you do a degree, and you still get the benefit of physical meetings with other writers.

So, I put together my applications, sent them out into the world, and waited in agony. I heard from one program quickly, another very recently, and then I had another kind of agony – deciding where to go.

Thus far, my results have been all positive (still haven’t heard from some), and when I took some deep breaths, it was easy to decide between those two on grounds of faculty fit, I then found myself with another puzzle. Because the other program that accepted me has such an early date, I needed to get back to them – potentially before I heard from anyone else.

This may seem unreasonable, or unfair, or impossible, but actually it’s very simple.

Imagine you got in everywhere. Then say for each program, “Would I pick X or Y?” If there are other programs you can say, “I’d pick Y over X,” then you’d better not pick X without some answer from Y. If you can honestly say you’d pick X over everything, then you can go ahead and say yes to X without waiting.

This was the case for me. I picked apart every program – I do this relatively quickly – with some help from my research-savvy mother and advice from a friend in another MFA program and my undergrad writing prof, and I said, where I’m in is my best fit.

So, I have accepted my offer from SNHU, and I will give regular updates on my progress, and also I’ll mention where else I get in. I’ve turned down Oklahoma City University, and yet to hear from anywhere else. But I’ll be having my first residency in June, and I’ll keep you all posted!

Cheers,

C