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Looking Back: A Year Since MFA Graduation

June 29th, which is only three short days away, will mark one whole year since I graduated from Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

To say I miss it would be a gross understatement.

Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the greater Boston area were my home away from home from June 2012 until June 2014. That tiny campus on the back side of monstrous Harvard University was where I learned to be myself, believe in myself, and believe in my work. It was where I finally understood that I was a writer.

The Story Behind My Acceptance

In the Fall of 2011, I was nearing the completion of my Master’s program at Mount Mary University. At the time, I had little to no interest in pursuing a seemingly elusive MFA, and for a few different reasons. I was tired of school and ready to be done. I didn’t want any more student loan debt. Most of all, I didn’t believe my writing was good enough to get me into any of the schools I would’ve wanted to go to.

But then I met with my advisor, Ann Angel, who I owe my writing life to. We discussed where my thesis stood at the time, and then she asked me the question I didn’t want to answer: “Have you thought about an MFA program?”

I hadn’t. I didn’t want to. My answer? “I think I’m done with school.”

That was when she planted the seeds.

“Chris Lynch teaches at Lesley University, you know. They have one of the best low-residency programs in the country.”

Chris Lynch has been a favorite YA author of mine for many years, and Ann knew that. We talked a little about how a low-residency program would work, and then the conversation shifted to my work as a writer.

“Your writing is great, Kerri. You can get in, I know it.”

She pressed harder, and, eventually, I gave in and applied to Lesley University and three other MFA programs. It turns out that giving in was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

A few months later, after I had submitted my thesis and graduated from Mount Mary, I received a phone call from Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Stephen Cramer, the director of the program, was calling to let me know I was accepted. We spoke for over an hour about writing, Boston, and the program. The next day, I received emails from faculty. Tony Abbott and Chris Lynch both emailed to say congratulations and welcome.

That day, I took the Mount Mary and told Ann the good news. “See?” she said. “I told you you had it in you.”

10 Days Every Six Months

Residencies were typically eight days or so. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it was. It really was. For every residency, except for m last one, I went to Cambridge a day or two early. It was the only way to get ready for the madness that was about to come.

The first residency in June 2012 was a killer. I had no idea what to expect, and went to Cambridge with some sort of illusion that I’d be focusing on my own writing for two whole years. I got to focus on my writing, but there was so much more.

Every day was packed from 8am until 10pm or later. Writing, workshops, seminars, and readings with short breaks to eat. Cambridge Commons was the go-to bar two blocks from campus. During that first residency, my small group workshop with Chris Lynch was held there. We drank and workshopped and it was one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done in my life.

For ten whole days I lived and breathed writing and other glorious literary things. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life thus far. I saw parts of Cambridge I never would’ve seen otherwise. I spent countless hours talking and workshopping with some of my favorite YA authors.

Residencies every six months were definitely what shaped me as a writer. I grew a thicker skin, learned to accept criticism, and most importantly, learned to believe in myself and my writing and learned when to let a project die. I learned to love my characters, let them go when i need to, and take help when it’s offered.

Growing as a Writer

Every residency built upon the one before it in many ways. Workshops, because I took revised work much of the time, grew my story and made it stronger. Until my third residency in June 2013, I had mostly worked on the same story.

That summer, Jackie Davies was my mentor. She was hard on me in the best ways possible. Jackie made me realize that my current story was too big for a first novel. She pushed me into starting something new, which I did, albeit reluctantly. I threw an idea together and hoped for the best.

I’ll be forever thankful to Jackie for making me start something new. The novel I started during my semester with her ended up being the thesis work that allowed me to graduate from the program. Not only did I find the story incredibly enjoyable to write, I learned so much about myself and my writing in just one short semester.

Note: When someone—a mentor, a friend, a teacher—tells you to consider starting something new, do it. Don’t just consider it. Do it. You never know where it might take you.

Throughout the Past Year

Since graduation, I’ve written.

What I mean by that, is that I’ve been writing for my day job. My own writing, as much as I don’t like to admit it, has suffered. However, I have been writing. Just not as much as I’d like to have.

I started three different short stories that I never finished. I did some research work and wrote slightly forward on my thesis novel.

I need to be writing more.

I’m changing this now. Just writing this post has given me the motivation to get back into my stories. I need to revise, and I’m going to do that, too. The best thing for me right now is probably to outline some sort of plan. I need to know what needs to be done right now, what can wait a bit, and what I won’t have to worry about for a while yet.

Right now, I need to be writing. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

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