In a world increasing overtaken by technology, you may be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t listen to podcasts these days. I like to describe podcasts as talk radio, but in an episodic format. Topics vary, of course, and if you’ve avoided podcasts by using the excuse that there’s nothing that’ll interest you, you’re likely wrong.
I’m definitely not one of those lucky folks who gets to take vacations. I mean the long vacations to some beautiful place where work can be left behind and relaxation is the only thing on the to-do list. Every once in a while (read: maybe once a year), I go to Chicago. That’s the extent of my vacations, mostly because I don’t have the funds to go anywhere further away. To compensate, I take mental vacations. They’re usually pretty short, but the idea of it is that I can go wherever I want to, even if it’s only for an hour (or sometimes less).
I’ve been taking these little “vacations” quite often lately. I always go to Boston, but lately, I’ve been visiting Cambridge. It’s been six months since I’ve graduated from the MFA program at Lesley University, and I don’t know that I’ve missed anything more than I miss that program.
We’ve all run into times when we’re just not willing to let something go. I had my experience with this recently during residency at Lesley University. This is the place where I’m always pushed out of my comfort zone. Always. It happened at the first two residencies, and I should’ve known it would happen at the third.
Because I’m a writer and I love what I do, it’s always been especially hard for me to stop working on something, to set it aside and start something new. Especially something as large as a novel. It’s a big investment, and as many people know, I’ve been working on a specific one for quite a while now. It was dismantled over the spring semester, but I was ready to get back into it–to bring it back to life and push it forward. That’s what I do. When times get hard, I push on. We all do. It’s part of writing.
I’m two days removed from the end of my third residency in Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I’m back in Wisconsin and sadly away from my writing friends and all things literary in Cambridge and Boston. And now that the classrooms are dark and empty, the seminars are over with, the workshops have ended, and the general atmosphere has returned to something resembling normality again, there’s still one question that burns at the back of my mind:
What do I do now?
I already know the answer to this question. The answer is a simple one: Write. This has always been the answer. It always will be.
So, why is this questions still at the back of my mind? It’s a funny thing, really. In the few days following my return from Cambridge, Boston, and Lesley, I go through these feelings of being lost, of wondering not only where I belong, but also if I have what it takes to get through the upcoming semester. A few more days go by, and I’ve settled back into a routine of reading, writing, and a general malaise of missing my school friends and the literary atmosphere that surrounds Cambridge. But the good thing about getting to this is that I’ve begun to write again.
And that’s exactly where I need to be. At that point where I can write again.
I’m looking forward to it. This semester is bringing new work. I’m starting a new novel and setting the old one aside for a while. I’m still a bit upset about this, but I’ve come to understand that it needs to be done and that it’s part of the process. I’m excited about this new work. I’m excited to work with Jackie Davies this semester. And I’m looking forward to where this semester will take me both as a writer and as a person.
So, while I might be feeling rather friendless in an area of backwoods, small-town Wisconsin where all things literary do not exist, I know that I have writing to do. And that is enough to keep me going for now. Because without writing, what else is there?
Ah, residency. That blissful nine-day span where nothing matters but literature and writing. I love it and am freshly home from my second residency in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Lesley University. While this residency had its obvious differences from the first one back in June, it was still exactly what I needed–a huge push to get back into a writing routine.
Here’s a quick look at the seminars I went to:
- The Past Coming to You Live (A seminar on historical fiction in young adult literature.)
- In Cold Print: The Cross Pollination of Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Poetry
- Indoor/Outdoor Writing: The Inspiration and Imperative of Place
- An Afternoon With Mark Siegel, Author/Illustrator, Director of First Second Books
- Chiarscuro: Darkness and Light in Children’s Literature
- The Art of Juxtaposition
- What’s So Funny? Exploring Appropriate Humor for Children for and Young Adults
- In the Smithy of My Soul: When Writing Takes on the World
- A Place Like No Other: Crafting a Compelling Setting That Readers Will Remember
In addition to these, I also had nine hours of workshops to attend.
Overall, this residency was another great learning experience. I made some great new friends and learned so much more than I thought I would. I will admit that the seminars weren’t as exciting as the first time around, but I still wouldn’t trade them for anything else. The faculty at Lesley is amazing and my work is better because of all of them. My new mentor, David Elliott, is a great guy. I have a great feeling about this semester with him.
And so it begins.
In less than two weeks–On January 3rd, to be exact–I’ll be leaving for Boston to attend my second residency in Lesley University’s highly-touted MFA in Creative Writing Program. Like the first one last June, I’m nervous, but I think this second residency will go much smoother, mostly because I know what to expect now. In certain ways, I’m looking forward to it.
Because we change mentors each semester, throughout this second semester I’ll be working with children/YA author, David Elliott. That’s him above. A friend in the program worked with him during our first semester and had nothing but good things to say. He’s a nice guy and he knows his stuff. I think this second semester is going to be a productive one. I sent in two chunks of different manuscripts this time, so I’m looking forward to his comments in the workshops I’ll be participating in.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been printing, reading, and commenting in order to prepare for this second residency. It’s been difficult as a result of being diagnosed with occular neuritis and other pre-multiple sclerosis symptoms. I’ve tried my hardest and am hoping it will all end well once I get to Boston. There are some great workshop stories both from new students, as well as the “veterans.” I can’t wait to get into full days of discussing writing again. That’s something that I’ve continually miss over the past six months.
During this second semester, my Interdisciplinary Studies project is a class. It’s online and is called “Psychology for the Creative Writer.” It’s taught by Dr, Jorge Amenteros, who is a psychiatrist, as well as a creative writer (he got his MFA from Lesley University, too). The one book I’ll be reading for the class is The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. I’ve already started reading it and I love it so far. I think it’s really going to help my main work, the story regarding the school shooting. Much of what I write has psychology ingrained, so this class is really perfect for me. I’ll be meeting with Dr. Amenteros during the residency, as well.
This is one of the few things i’m looking forward to in the coming months. Barring any major health shifts, this residency will be a great one. I’m so glad I decided to stick with it after a rough semester. Stay tuned for a full report on the event after I return on January 13th!
In the meantime, Happy Writing!
As I’m sure you’re aware, there have been few posts here over the last few months. My MFA program took over my life, in certain ways. I also finally found a full-time job and had my sister’s wedding to help put together and participate in. Other things found their way into my calendar as well.
And here I am.
It’s November now.
I’m one week away from the last submission of my first semester in Lesley University’s MFA program. It’s been a rough semester. Why? Because I’ve constantly felt as though I didn’t have enough time to write. Yes, I was busy with other things, but that’s life, isn’t it? I can’t use those things as excuses for not writing. I did it anyway.
Here I am. A week from the final submission. I have two novels to read yet and a chapter to finish. All for Chris Lynch, one of my favorite YA authors of all time.
I’ve learned in these last few days that if you wait for time to open up, you’ll get nothing done. When it comes to writing (or anything else, really), you MAKE time for it. You carve it out of your day, regardless of how busy it is. You wake up a half hour early to write even if you already wake up at 5am. You stay up until 1am, just to get fifteen minutes in. Writing is writing, and if you’re serious about it, you DO it. It doesn’t matter if you get ten pages or two paragraphs in.
YOU JUST WRITE.
I’ve dug myself a huge hole. Starting tonight, I work myself out of it. Not only because I have to, but because I’d like to be an example for other writers. We can all do this, right? Make time for writing? Of course we can. Because we love what we do. So, let’s buckle down and do it.
Let’s face it. Very few of us are natural-born writers. That is, very few of us are perfect at what we do. As writers, we become attached to what we write. We fall in love with our characters because we spend countless hours creating them and adding that dimension of reality that’s needed to make readers like (or hate) them, too. We love our settings and the descriptions of them. Many of us love everything about our stories.
Because of that, the revision process can be pretty daunting. And by “pretty,” I mean “so frightening that we don’t want to bother.” That last part, the “not bothering,” is detrimental to any writing career. Revision is an integral part of writing because there is always room for improvement. Always. “Revision” is a big word. It encompasses a lot. A revision can be something small like a few lines or one chapter to half of your book or even a complete overhaul on a novel. Regardless of how big your revision is, it needs to be done. Period.
Because we’re not perfect, in many cases a revision is huge. It’s not uncommon for an entire storyline–that is, an entire novel–to be overhauled. This is where things get really scary. When a story needs to be gutted, we have to cut scenes, lines, and much more that we love. Please believe that it’s a regular occurrence. You’re not the only one removing favorite lines or killing of characters. We’ve all done it. We’ll all do it some more in the future. If you’re ever on the verge of tears over losing a piece of your novel or story that you love, remember this:
The things you cut will almost always make a reappearance. While something may not fit where it is right now, the perfect, scene or chapter will come long and the fit will be perfect. You’ll only have to part with your loves for a little while.
See? Things aren’t so bad now, are they? Revisions are hard. Large revisions are even harder. But you can do them. And you will do them. Why? Because you’re a writer, and revising is what writers do.