when i first embarked upon my master of fine arts journey, two years—after almost seven in school already—seemed a distant destination. now, three quarters of the way through my degree, i can think of no better time to reflect on my experience thus far.
i had the honor to work with lydia peelle, whose excitement for my decision to tackle writing a historical novel matched my own. with lydia, i learned to let go of the notion that my writing had to shine from the first draft.
i learned to experiment and play with my story, to get to know my characters and settings through exercises i’d never before tried.
i also learned that this program was the right one for me. the low-residency requirement has allowed me to connect with other writers, to learn together, without requiring me to adjust my schedule too much.
more than that, i learned to crave feedback from my mentors and fellow writers.
taking with me the spirit of what i had learned in my first five months as an mfa candidate, i worked with my second mentor, robin wasserman (another stroke of good fortune), to experiment with style and voice. additionally, i explored writing from other points of view connected to my protagonist.
by the end of another five months, i was ready to tackle the plot of my novel. and then i went to residency, where a friend and i decided together that my story should take place a century later.
a new page one, a new stack of books for research, a new plot, and a new main character emerged. my story underwent some dramatic changes as i worked with my third mentor, mitch wieland (another great author and teacher).
our big focus over these last five months has been the hero’s journey, something i’d studied years ago. i’d not studied it in awhile though, so it was a helpful tool as i worked on plotting and structuring my novel.
the here and now
so my plan, now that my third semester is over, was to use nanowrimo to finish my rough draft. it wasn’t a bad plan, but i have noticed i’d still rather write at a slower pace and write better fiction than get it all out of my head as fast as possible.
for me, the reason is i am more excited about writing something stronger than i am about pumping out a draft. so, while my goal is still to finish a draft before the next semester starts on jan. 6, it’s better for me to take my time and work every day.
what’s next? i have one more semester. the goal is to write and edit a draft of 25,000 to 75,000 words. my book will be on the longer side of that scale, if not beyond it.
having just one more residency makes me a little sad, and I wouldn’t mind returning to the program as faculty if i manage to sell a book, but for now i’m going to look forward to my fourth and last residency, and hope the last semester doesn’t go by as fast as the first three.
i realize this may be a useless hope, as it’s a shorter semester than the other three have been, with fewer deadlines (though more work is due at each one), but i can hope anyway.
a third degree
my mfa will be my third degree; i also hold a ba in art history and an ma in english & creative writing. this will be my last degree, and with each one, my experience as a student has improved more and more.
still, it will also be nice to write and read at my own pace. this is the only balm to the idea that i am almost finished with a program that has been some of the best months of my adult life.
i will take with me the many lessons, friends, and hopefully a book other people will want to read.