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.




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!



The Other Writer’s Nemesis: In Spite Of

This might just be me. In fact, I’m entirely prepared for this to be a problem only I have.

Who else says “in spite of” at least three times a chapter, right?

I blame my fourth/fifth grade teacher. He was fabulous, taught me so many critical life skills and school skills. He encouraged my interests and taught me discretion over shock value. (Call me precocious)

But he had us memorize a poem/song/story a month. Because I had him twice, I had some discretion the second year, but the first year I learned what everyone else did – including The Night Before Christmas.

The skill of memorization has proved useful, and that particular poem is a great party piece around the holidays.

Let’s face it: poems can give us bad habits of wordiness. I have a feeling this is where a great deal of my awkward phrasings comes from – reading and memorizing poetry. And “I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself” sounds endlessly better than “I laughed when I saw him, despite myself,” not to mention not fitting meter.

But I say, “in spite of” waaaaaay too much in my work, and one smooth way to get rid of two words at once is to switch it to “despite,” which sounds more streamlined and cuts out those pesky, fumbling prepositions.

Again, not sure, could just be me, but if this is something you see in your own writing, now you have a fix.

That, and you’ll never be able to edit without hearing The Night Before Christmas in your head ever again.



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!



GRE Blues

Standardized testing may have its purpose, but it’s a headache for anyone and everyone who has ever had to go through it (which should be just about everybody in the US and may people besides).

I am currently studying for my GREs, which I’ll be taking the last Monday of the month (prayers and crossed fingers appreciated). I’m consistently getting high enough verbal scores, but for one of my programs my math scores need to be at least five points higher.

This leads to me studying, and taking a test a day, because I decided I wanted to do this a bit late in the game and really should have taken the test last year.

That, and I really need to nail it the first time.


The GRE test costs $185 each time you take it. As if that wasn’t the most ridiculous pricing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not even like they’ve got a bunch of paper and ink they’re spending that money on because it’s all computerized. Isn’t that supposed to save money?

Anyway, here’s my advice on this test. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you have even an inkling that you’re going to need to take this for Grad school, start NOW, however far into college you are (and if it’s about to be fall of your final year, get going RIGHT NOW, don’t even bother finishing this post – well, maybe when you finish, then). Princeton Review has a single free test, although it doesn’t give the best analytics post-test. Kaplan also has free services, and they’re FANTASTIC. I really think this is a good place to start. Get a book if you can. Do an online course through Kaplan if you can afford it and your preliminary tests reveal that you need help in one or both sections. They actual have Verbal Only and Quantitative Only courses, which is great if you know one’s fine but the other needs work.

One thing I did for the math as well, since I was so out of practice, was do all the SAT II math practice tests we had around the house from mine and my brothers’ previous testing experiences. It’s a bit of overkill as this level isn’t all going to be on the test by any stretch, but I have to admit that my math scores were better off for it.

So that’s my advice on this particular part of Grad School Applications. I will go back to reading about MFA programs and leave you with that nugget of thought for the night.



Why I’ve Been Absentee of Late

First of all, I apologize for my lack of blogging. I’ll be putting up a post from Natalie Cannon later in the week (hopefully) that I simply need to edit and format. Let me explain to you how exceptionally busy I have been.

I may not have mentioned this earlier, but I’m in a play that’s got two more runs (today and tomorrow) and then I’m free – I mean, done. 😀

In spite of the fact that I think I spend a total of five minutes on stage for the whole two hour play, my life has more or less been taken over. I only had to do a fraction of the rehearsals, thank God. But we literally spent all weekend building the set so homework didn’t happen, blogging didn’t happen, Camp NaNoWriMo didn’t happen. Twitter didn’t happen…. You get the idea.

So the fact that set-building is done means that I’m frantically trying to get ahead in homework again because Thursday I have intermural soccer, Friday I have a meeting about senior thesis, and Saturday my mother arrives for a two day stay. I’m literally exhausted and will be even more so by the end of the week. Not to mention I have a paper due Wednesday, an exam on Thursday, and another paper due next week that I really need to get a start on RIGHT NOW because I have no idea what I’m going to say.


On the plus side, I feel like the worst is over in this regard. I’ve written ten page papers in less time than what I now have to write, and harder topics at that. I’ve really got this philosophy section down, I feel. And while I don’t yet have a topic, I really think that there’s a lot I can draw from in Keats to talk about so once I get a moment I think I’m going to sift through some of his poems for lines I can work with.

And really, once I do laundry once or twice I’m ready for my mother. That’s the easy part.

So there is my (admittedly pathetic) excuse! I hope you all forgive me and continue to read my pitiful blog. I literally light up whenever I see likes and follows in my inbox (although comments would be great, you silly people! Comment!)