MFA Monday: On Process and Make-up Posts

Yes, I blog-failed not once but twice last week.

What can I say? Sometimes the school thing really eats your life. So far the beginning of spring semester’s been kind of like an invisible hammer to the face — man, but I did not see this excruciating pain coming.

But! To make up for it and be true to my word about the frequency of posting, I’ll be doing some make-up posts this week now that things have calmed down. That means posts EVERY FREAKIN’ DAY, MONDAY-FRIDAY.

Aren’t you excited? I know I am.

No. Seriously. It’ll be fun.

So you might be wondering what in the wonderful world of MFAing could have caught me so off guard so quickly. As is often the case in these circumstances, it involves a story . . .

If you’ve ever taken an undergraduate course in creative writing, you know that you get some warm-up time to start out the semester. You do a few exercises. You read a lot of published work. Then, then your professor gives you a full-length assignment.

Not the case for an MFA workshop. First, second week of school someone is turning in a full-length (generally 15-25 pg) story for workshop. Because, as I’ve said before I’m sure, we’re supposed to be producing all the time.

I volunteered for the first spot this semester, partly to just get it out of the way and partly because I (apparently) enjoy stress. Because even though I wrote extra stories last semester and I had worked a fair bit over winter break, I didn’t feel like I had anything workshop-ready.

Basically for a story to be ready for one’s peers, the narrative has to be more or less complete (even though you’ll probably end up changing it drastically later). And the writer has to know enough about it, about what they want to do with it, to show it everyone else. Because even when you’re in a classroom of friends and peers, there are going to be questions. Quibbles. Complaints. Other nearly alliterative words. Which is the point, of course, but if you’re not in the psychological space where you can take critique, it can kill your desire to work on the piece.

Trust me. It’s happened.

Point: I think it’s more of a common problem with novels. Because by virtue of length, no one can have a complete novel to workshop. So if you’re in the middle of a draft and someone in class is taking apart your premise, your character’s motivations, etc., that can make a work hard to go back to. It’s not a complaint, it’s not an evil of the MFA workshop, but it’s a reality. Either you’re ready to have a work looked at or you’re not. The key is knowing the difference, knowing whether you’ve put enough work into the piece already for it to be worth the trouble of getting seven different opinions on it.

Which is why, looking at my various works in progress last week, I knew I would have to really throw myself into finishing one of them so that it would be ready for workshop. And, as is characteristic of me, I ended up not adding to and finishing one of those stories, but spending long, feverish hours writing a new one.

Yeah, it borders on the masochistic, doesn’t it? But it’s an aspect of the process for me. Either stories come out quick and heady and exciting or slow and thoughtful and painstaking. No in-between.

I did finish in time for workshop on Thursday, a little sleep-deprived but definitely happy with what I’ve done.  We’ll see how workshop goes this week.


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