Friday, December 18, 2009

One Semester Down, Five to Go!

By Jennifer Brown

One semester down, 5 more to go!  I hope I keep learning as much as I did this semester.  Over the past four months my writing improved even more than I thought it would over the course of my entire program.  Most of this is thanks to a professor who got on me about my verbs in our first assignment:  I had used the passive voice in just about every other sentence without even thinking about it.  Now, whenever I’m working on something not only do I go back over the piece and re-write every sentence with a “to be” verb, I go back over most of the verbs and make sure that they are the strongest and most precise available.   Strong verbs, strong verbs, strong verbs!  Strong nouns are important too, but I come by those a little more naturally (in other words without the constant help of the thesaurus).

There are many interesting classes to take at George Mason—the list of available classes for each semester always makes me feel like I’ve picked the right place do my MFA.  This past semester I took a required Forms of Fiction class, where we read and wrote each week; a Setting class, where we read and wrote each week; and a literature class.  I am really tied to place in my work, so the Setting class was perfect for me.  And speaking of perfect—I couldn’t believe it when I saw the list of classes for next semester.  There is a “War Writing” class offered—and I’m thinking of doing a war novel for my thesis!  I take that as a sign from the gods that I’m on the right track with my thoughts about my thesis.   In addition to War Writing, I have Fiction Workshop and Forms of Nonfiction next semester.  I’m taking Forms of Nonfiction because at GMU we must take a cross-genre class (which is something I really like about the program). 

I also became involved with our program’s lit mag: Phoebe.  We are required to do an MFA project before graduation and I intend for this to be it.   I am a reader for the journal and I’ve done some admin work as well.  I enjoy reading the submissions—the bad ones make me feel so much better about my own writing, and the good ones are such a joy to read.  It’s like panning for gold—every once in a while you find a nice nugget.  Also this kind of thing is right up my alley having been a magazine editor in my most recent pre-MFA life.  

Finally, I’ve done something I couldn’t manage to do while I was practicing law or while I was running a national magazine—I’ve taken advantage of the fitness facilities on campus (mainly the pool) and lost about 20 lbs.  The moral of that story is: try to take advantage of all of the free resources available to you on campus.  At GMU there are so many; for example we have a performing arts center that brings in everything from opera to the circus and we get free tickets.   

So to my fellow MFAers, congrats on finishing your first semester, and to all of you out there who are applying right now—going to George Mason to study creative writing is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.  Can you become a great writer outside of an MFA program?  Yes, of course.  But probably not anywhere near as fast as you can inside of a program. 

Happy Holidays!



  1. Great post, Jennifer! It sounds like you are having a wonderful experience. My poetry workshop professor this semester also got on me about "to be" verbs. While I firmly believe they do have their place, I have also seen good results by paying attention to strong specific verbs. Funny, I teach the freshmen the same thing and it works for them as well ;)

    Congrats on the weight loss, and you bring up a really good point about all the resources present on a college campus! I have yet to take advantage of the fitness facilities here, but I intend to; and there are cultural events outside of the English department that are a great deal for students. Glad you mentioned that!

  2. congrats on the wt loss, finishing the semester and all the other goodness!

    i think i might have submitted to Phoebe recently as a matter of fact :)

    Panning for gold is so true!

  3. I learned that "to be" thing my senior year of undergrad and I used it mainly for my lit papers. It just made me sound so official lol. I also work for the verb in my poetry now because of that.

    Glad you had a good semester!


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