Thursday, September 18, 2014

The MFA Journey- Week 4

I'm finishing up week four of my first semester as a low-residency student at Chatham University. It has been an interesting month; I thought I'd share a few things I have learned so far.

1- Some writing days are awesomely fabulous and delightfully productive. Other days are, um, well, let’s just say not awesomely fabulous and delightfully productive. However, both are equally valuable. I came to see that you can’t skip over the not so good days, or try to keep yourself busy vacuuming and doing laundry and cleaning the toilets, waiting for inspiration to strike. You have to sit in the chair, stare at the computer screen, then wait for inspiration to strike. At least that way, your fingers will be ready to go when it does come. In short- sit your butt in the chair.

2- I like to munch on Smarties, Kettle brand zesty ranch tortilla chips, and Wegman’s wheat square cereal while sitting in the chair waiting for inspiration.

3- Never underestimate just how many times you will reuse a lousy word. Like just.

4- I am doing my work in a low-residency format. This means that all the emails I get from Chatham revolve around events and activities happening in Pittsburgh. I do not live in Pittsburgh, I live in Ithaca. I cannot drive for five hours for a potluck, nor even for a one day event. And really, I don’t need to know about the shopping shuttle bus delays. Still, I like getting the emails. I reminds me that what those Chatham people have that I don’t is community--that thing that all writers MUST have if they want to succeed. So, if I can’t be a part of the Chatham community, I've decided to make an Ithaca community. I formed an awesome online local network of women writers where we can share about our work, local events, and just ask questions of each other. Also, I've pulled together a critique group of nature writers. And I am seeking out and going to as many readings and discussions and book launch parties as I can manage. But I'm still not too concerned with the delays in the shopping shuttle.

5- Number five builds on number four... I attended a round table shop talk at Cornell last week. It was a discussion between a poet/journal publisher, an agent, and a book publisher. They gave good info for emerging writers and shared their take on trends and the direction literature is headed. But as I looked around the room at the students and I heard these industry professionals answering questions and talking about the million dollar books they have worked on, I got the distinct sense that this was not my place. They were pretty adamant that poetry and literary fiction are really the only two genres that count. They had some unkind words about YA, and adults who read YA. They had clear judgments on which lit journals are worthy and which aren't. I don't know, maybe they all have a right to be judgmental. The speakers have been in the industry for a lifetime, and the students at Cornell are paying upwards of $40,000 a year for this info. For me, however, the air in the room seemed a bit stifling, and I was glad to leave and get back to my utterly-not-competitively-elite life.

I’m kind of a decent writer. 

7- But, this shit takes time.

8- And, I'm really grateful I get to do it.


Andrea said...

Those are all pretty good insights for just four weeks into your program! You're going to do well. And, ugh, the snobbery and pretentiousness that can pervade some literary circles is revolting. But there are lots of good, non-snobby, non-pretentious writers out there, too!

Amanda K. Jaros said...

Thanks Andrea! You're right, there are loads of non-pretentious writers out there, and I am happily getting to know more of them :)

Sue Heavenrich said...

Thanks for sharing your journey. It is enlightening to hear what you think... and helpful for those of us who believe YA might be the highest form if literature (except for picture books) (or haiku)