MFA Confidential Blog

An MFA Student's 2011 Writing Resolutions

Last week I made a list of writing-related things I’m grateful for that happened in 2010. Now that we are two days into the new year, my next list is writing-related resolutions for 2011. Now this list is separate from my normal resolutions, which are pretty standard and usually forgotten by early February: lose...

What I'm Grateful For

I know it’s a cliché, but I just cannot believe 2010 is already coming to an end. Since New Year’s is a time for list-making, I am going to make a list of the writing-related things for which I am most grateful in 2010: •The continued support of my family. Of course their opinions...

Keeping Motivated Over the Semester Break

The question at the beginning of every semester break is how much writing you’ll be doing in relation to how much you’ve promised yourself you’ll do. Lucky for me, I’m a teacher, so I’m also out on a two-week Christmas break, meaning I’ve gone from being insanely busy to wonderfully idle. For the next...

Last Class

I always love the last week of the semester because we spend the entire class reading student work. Throughout the semester, all of our classes are conducted in the same format: the students sit in a semicircle around the professor. But during the last class, we students take turns sitting in the professor’s chair...

The First Time I Ever Got Published

Every writer remembers the first time they get their work published. It happened to me at the end of grammar school, when Nick Popovic [note: all names have been changed] and I were chosen to write a segment in our eighth grade memory book called “Where will they be in twenty years?,” predicting the...

A Thank You to my Teachers

In this month’s issue of WD, Dinty W. Moore, in his article “MFA Insider” writes about the importance of finding a mentor in your MFA program, and extends his thanks to the teachers he found along the way when he was pursuing his own degree at LSU. Moore’s article inspired me to take this...

I Finished the Steeplechase!

It took all semester to chip away at it, but the last step of my Steeplechase is finally complete! Just over forty pages, it consists of eleven successive scenes of story, each written in a different form: 1. a third person POV 2. a first person POV 3. a summary 4. an opposite character’s...

The Rewrite Process

We have three weeks of the semester left, and I’m feeling that end-of-semester paradox of being completely burned out but also stunned at how fast it’s gone. The last few weeks before break, we focus on the rewrite process. Yesterday, we got into groups and discussed the work of our classmates. Then we gave...

Am I a Hipster?

I’ve spent a lot of time this week with my sister, who’s home for Thanksgiving, and the other day she asked me a question that I’ve been pondering for a few days now: Are you a hipster? It’s a label that I vehemently denied, but then Nora pointed out that one of the primary...

Carpal Tunnel?

Last summer, I started experiencing numbness and loss of control in my hands and fingers. I was worried, and since my medical expertise was limited to the dissection of a fetal pig in high school Biology, I turned to WebMD to diagnose myself. With this helpful tool, I was able to narrow down my...

Come Home Chicago–A Guest Blog

Hi everyone! Last month, I talked about one of Chicago’s best literary events, Come Home Chicago, founded by Columbia’s own Matt Martin and Don De Grazia. Tonight marks the one year anniversary of the series, but also, because of the ever-stronger press of development in the city, the last time the wonderful Underground Wonderbar...

Why the MFA?

This morning I woke up early, knocked out two more steps of my steeplechase (only two more to go, and this story keeps getting weirder), then drove through the pouring rain to Columbia and worked an open house for prospective grad students. It was a really cool experience, getting to speak one on one...

Emailing With Stuart

A few weeks ago, I had to do a presentation in my CRW class about a short story writer who I admire. I immediately thought of Stuart Dybek, one of my favorite writers and the author of the beautiful short story collections I Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago. We weren’t supposed...

Just Turn It In!

Like most writers I know, I can be sort of a perfectionist. I don’t like to turn in work for class until I’ve revised and revised until I can’t revise anymore. I’m fully aware that this is crazy: the whole point of turning in work is to get feedback and ideas; what you hand...

The Legacy of Eileen

Last Friday, after years of trying to fight her illness, a beloved member of my dad’s family, Eileen Gillespie, passed away. After the wake, many of us went to the bar, and as the Saw Doctors played on the jukebox, cigarettes were lit, and drinks poured, I began to think about Eileen’s children and...

Thesis Hours!

Just left my advising appointment for next semester’s classes and even though I had my questions answered, I am starting to panic about thesis hours. Thesis hours! Six little credit hours that have managed to terrify me on a variety of levels: 1) When you start your hours, you have to pick a thread...

The Balancing Act

Well, we’ve reached the saggy middle of the semester, when people (or at least me) begin to feel completely overwhelmed. The three factors of work, school, and life are not meshing together in the clockwork-ish way that I was hoping for back in August. They are beginning to interfere with one another, forcing me...

Creative Non-Fiction?

This week is Creative Non-Fiction Week at Columbia, which features readings and panel discussions with writers in the genre who work in various media outlets. Creative Non-Fiction has been called “the fourth genre”, the often-forgotten cousin of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, which makes me feel slightly better because before I started my MFA, I...

Reading Like a Writer

I majored in English as an undergrad, and now I teach high school English, so I am pretty well-trained in squeezing an obscure meaning out of a text, finding the symbols and the patterns and the metaphors. Sometimes I get so excited about the detective work of literary analysis that I need to be...

Reading Aloud

This week, we spent almost all of the 4.5 hours of my Tuesday night class sharing our writing. It always amazes me how much unspoken feedback you can get just from noticing the atmosphere in the room when your work is being read out loud. If the story is working, the silence in the room is palpable.  There’s...

The Follow-Through

The atmosphere in the St. Viator’s gym was electric. There were twenty seconds left on the clock, we were losing 21-20 (a fairly high score in the world of seventh grade girls’ basketball), and some chick with a long stringy ponytail and Horace Grant goggles had just hacked at my arm while I was...

Surviving the MFA

Most of the people in my advanced fiction class are in their third year, so the other night my teacher asked us to give him our top three survival strategies for making it through your MFA.I thought I would share with you (since no, I have not started my Steeplechase yet) what I’ve come...

Procrastination and cocktails!

I haven’t started my Steeplechase assignment yet. I’ve pondered it a great deal, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually start writing. Today I’m going to use this forum to list the justifications of my procrastination, in the hopes that once I name the problem, I can start solving it: 1)I’m...

The Scariest Assignment…

Well, it’s been assigned: The Steeplechase, quite possibly the most polarizing assignment in my MFA program. It’s a requirement for completion of an advanced fiction class, and since this is my second advanced class, this is going to be my second attempt. Before I actually tried the The Steeplechase, I’d heard talk of it...

Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?

This past summer, I spent some time in Ireland visiting a friend. He took me to Bray, a small town in County Wicklow, to do a coastal walk along the Irish Sea. While we were there, we came upon a small carnival that had been built along the coast. It had a temporary quality...