We’ve now finished Day 3 of the MFA residency and the first thing I have to mention is that it is hot here. I wasn’t wrong to expect that. However, I appear to be lucky in that it’s relatively mild right now—only in the low 90s.
The first event on Day 1 was a short one—the director made several announcements and introduced the faculty. Then each of the faculty gave a short talk on the topic of “How to write when you can’t.” They all gave good advice and I was especially happy to hear (from my mentor, though they all agreed) that the whole idea that you have to write every single day to be a writer is bunk. They acknowledged that there are many ways to be a writer and it’s an art so you can’t necessarily force it. I do think that sometimes it is worth making yourself do something because sometimes you’re stuck and if you just force your way past this one thing, you’ll find yourself smoothly moving along again. I’ve had to force my way through scenes to get to the next, easier one (even though what I’ve written is crap—but that’s what editing is for).
Yesterday was all informational sessions. We learned about the various type of “annotations” we have to do. These are basically analysis papers that look at a specific aspect of the writing craft as it relates to a book or two. We have to write 45 short ones (2 pages) in the first three semesters, 1 medium-length (3-5 pages) in each of the first two semesters, and one long one (15-20 pages) that goes into the thesis so it has to be done in the third semester. Plus every month we have to write 10-30 pages, which doesn’t sound bad to me. But I’m going to be working on my short story collection for the degree, so it may be more difficult than to come up with pages from a novel. More brand new material. I finished a draft of the first short story in the collection, which precedes the story that’s posted on this site. The draft is almost 40 pages, so I’m good for a couple months. I’ll probably have to work on the next story for the November submission.
The craft sessions started today. We had one that explored tone and voice. This involves things like diction and word choice (for instance, think of the difference between the words “childish” and ”childlike,” which mean the same thing but have different connotations). We did some interesting and entertaining exercises where we had to change a sentence so that the tone was totally different.
“How stupid do you have to be to not understand that?”
“Just how far do you think your looks will get you?”
The next workshop was on flash fiction, where we talked about the various types (and concluded that all other subtypes really are just flash fiction, which can be up to around 1000 words) and looked at some good examples. He also had us do an exercise where we wrote our own. I of course failed miserably at that because I 1. suck at writing on command, and 2. can’t write anything short to save my life.
Then we had a workshop on time control, which is a more complicated topic than I thought. I mean, most of what I write is in what’s called “classic time,” which is time that is relatively brief and is expressed in one continuous flow (a day, a month, a year). I haven’t written anything that spans decades or longer, which is called long time. And then there are more weird ones that I won’t go into because at least at this point, they don’t really interest me.
Finally, we had the faculty reading tonight, where the various faculty read from their books/poems. It was really good, even if it did make me feel a bit like a fraud. Oh well, maybe I’ll get better.
Anyway, that’s the update from here.