Sunday, August 8, 2010

Revving up for my thesis year

By Casey Tolfree

I feel like the worst blogger ever. I had so much fun blogging both here on MFA Chronicles and on my own blog last spring and then summer happened and my blogging days went on vacation. Sadder still is that there was plenty to write about.

For all the newcomers to this blog, I am about to start my second and final year of my MFA program at Adelphi University.

I spent the summer writing my thesis and reading a lot of books I'd never heard of, but really enjoyed (for the most part).

I was concerned at first that I had only the three and a half months of summer to write my thesis. Writing for me is a long process and sometimes it will be days before I can find my characters again. Fortunately, the story I'm writing has captured me and I have been pretty much writing it or thinking about writing it every day.

When I met with my advisor Vince Passaro at the end of the semester, my goal was to be at page 100 by August. It's August 8th I'm on page 112. I made a goal with myself that to reach page 100 I would simply write one page a day... and I did for the next few months. It worked. Page 100 hit right at the end of the beginning of my novel. The part I had actually outlined in detail in my head. Of course the next 12 pages were much harder to come by, they are less planned and as I try to send my narrator further on her journey I need to make sure I cover all my bases. Andi's life is complicated, even for me the person who knows her best.

Aside from writing like I said I've been reading. I was assigned to read John Updike, Couples and The Maples Stories. Both books just amazed me. Updike's writing was something I could only hope to one day even get close to.

I wound up reading a total of 11 books this summer and will hopefully increase that to 12 by September 1. The authors I read, Updike, Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Edith Wharton, Colsen Whitehead just to name a few that I really enjoyed. I didn't think I could successfully read that many books and get my novel over 100 pages and yet somehow I did. I give all the credit to the train rides.

I interned in Manhattan this summer at a literary agency. It was so much fun. I am going to miss going once school starts. I met a good group of people and found something I'd really like to do with my life.
The train ride into the city is 47 minutes each way, so I brought my library books and I read twice a week on the train. I think I finished a book a week that way. Couples came on vacation with me, 10 hour car ride, both ways.

Overall, I guess the point of this blog is that even though in an MFA program you are supposed to immerse yourself in the writing. It was stepping outside the writing and doing other things that allowed me to write. If I'm forced to sit and stare all day at screen, nothing of merit will come. Knowing I had to write only a page a day that helped me be successful. Learning how the publishing world worked, made me see things in my own work that needed to change to be published.

I'm excited to go back to school, to see my friends and classmates. I've grown this summer as has my writing; I want to see where their summers led them.


  1. Casey, your internship sounds really neat. I'd love to hear more about it! And I'm glad you were able to get through 11 books this summer. I would get so carsick if I tried reading on the train!

  2. The trick is to ride backwards... then it doesn't bother you as much

  3. Wow! That's a lot of pages! Good job! I can't even imagine writing a novel. Well, that's a lie. I can ONLY imagine writing a novel. Sounds like you're off to a great start with your thesis!

  4. Hi Casey.

    I'm a prospective MFA applicant from India. I'm looking specifically at schools in NY and surrounding states. Your post caught my eye and, after some reading, now I'm considering Adelphi.

    I was hoping you could give me a little taste of what life is like at Adelphi. I know it's a very broad topic more suited to a post (hint!) than a comment, but an idea of the situation on the ground would be immensely helpful to someone who has never been to the US and has formed opinions by watching sitcoms and Hollywood.

    And I love John Updike; I became a devoted worshipper after reading 'Rabbit Is Rich'.


  5. Hey Rags,

    Life at Adelphi... well... it's quite a small program. We have 14 students in my year. I'm a commuter, but most people live nearby off campus. We are a really tight knit group, we do a lot together, from just hanging out before or after class to go to parties or out in the city.

    It's a great atmosphere and even the troubles I've had just made me a stronger more determined writer.

    We have a fiction, poetry and dramatic writing program with some great professors. If you look at my old posts you will see that I recently worked with Victor LaValle.

    Anyway, if you have more specific questions feel free to write to me.


  6. Hey Bethany,
    More about my internship... okay well I interned at PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc. It's a nice boutique agency. I spent my days replying to queries and reading samples, occasionally making messenger runs to various places in the city. The agent Peter is so lively and always wanted to sit and talk with all of us about the industry. The staff, Natalie and Adrienne, are great. So much fun and so nice. I felt like I really learned a lot while I was there. I think they are looking for fall interns, and I would definitely recommend PMA.

  7. wow, what a cool internship! I'm jealous. and thx for the tip re: reading backwards on the train!

  8. Thanks Casey. I'm diving into your older posts now. :)



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