“So what do you do when you’re not at residency?” I get asked this a lot. There seems to be a charming idea ffloating* around out there that I’ll go and do “writerly things” twice a year for a couple of years and then be handed my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing diploma. Among my circle, I am entirely to blame for this misconception. This is because I get excited and talktoofast.
Here are the bare bones:
- There are four six-month semesters
- Each semester I work one-on-one with an advisor to develop a curriculum
- Each semester I turn in five packets to that advisor—packets comprised of Ffiction, critical essays, and a letter discussing material read. (At least for the fffirst* two semesters; for semesters three and four there are critical and creative theses involved, but we won’t worry our pretty heads about that just yet.)
- With each packet, the advisor sends back copious notes on what worked and what didn't, and generally (one hopes) encourages better writing, better study.
So that’s what I’m doing now, and it’s (a) a lot of work and (b) fantastic. I just love digging into this stuff.
On Thursday I put Packet #1 in the hands of the good people at the USPS. It contained:
- Twenty-one pages (I think—I dare not look now unless I see a glaring error) of fffiction*: one complete story that I’d been working on for awhile, one partial fresh one, with questions about my handling of time (the narrative jumps around a bit, which is tricky)
- A six-page essay on Lorrie Moore’s handling of emotion in Birds of America. Have you written essays since college? I haven’t, and this was a bit of an ordeal reminding me of way-back-when with those introductory comments and thesis statements and clear points with transitions between them all. Egads.
- A letter to my advisor, of course, discussing craft essays I read and a few other concerns about the packet. I wrote the letter at the end of a really long day, which means the letter is probably goofy. Oh well.
(We writers are a neurotic bunch, aren’t we? I do love us so.)
I’ve given myself a couple of days’ break, and then I’m launching into the next packet. I’m focused on short stories now, and so that’s probably what I’ll read for this packet. I’ve got Edward P. Jones’s Lost in the City on hand, and I’m thinking Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn, too. I’ll likely hear back from my advisor sometime next week (my packet go hung up in that crazy snow storm) and then it’ll be Revision City, after I lick my wounds.
This is all a huge challenge, but a fun one. The biggest challenge is fffitting* this into the rest of my life: friends, the all-important and valued day-job, house chores/bill paying/grocery shopping/cooking.
Wouldn’t trade it for the world.
*What's with the double f's? For some reason some, but not all, were just disappearing as I wrote them! What the f?