Saturday, May 8, 2010

First Year Wrap-Up (GMU)

by Jennifer Brown

With the exception of one workshop—and I’m not “up”—I’ve completed year one of my MFA program. And what springs to mind is this: Thank god it is a three-year program! If it were two years, I’d be moving on to my thesis and thinking about graduating, and I’m not even close to ready for that. I feel like I’ve just now become adjusted, just now learned how to read closely enough to participate fully in class, just now learned some of the basics of writing decent fiction. I still feel very much like a beginner and I am glad I’ll have an extra year to work on technique before I move on to the novel that will be my thesis.

The most important thing that has happened this year is that I’ve realized how bad I am. You can’t spend large amounts of time every week devoted to reading the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner and come away thinking you are a “good” writer. You just can’t. But the great thing about the realization that you aren’t any good yet is that you can move on from there—you can get your bearings and learn and improve and even reach for the stars. Knowing how far you have to go is knowledge—and that is a great thing.

As far as my writing is concerned, it has improved 100 percent, and I’ve learned more in one year than I had hoped to learn over the course of the whole program. I’m still struggling terribly with the idea of story, but I’m finding my “voice,” and liking it. I’m enjoying the creation of elegant sentences and working with the great art of description as much as I’ve ever enjoyed anything. I’m confident that getting a handle on how to tell a story will come with practice and lots of reading. I am to write a novella this summer and I’m both excited about it and terrified. But at least I feel I have the tools to do it.

The decision to go through an MFA program was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


  1. Ha, I loved this: "The most important thing that has happened this year is that I’ve realized how bad I am." It's so true for me, as well, in my MFA experience.

  2. I am so happy to be in a three year program too. The thought of turning around this summer and going full steam ahead on my thesis is enough to make me need a change of pants. I shan't elaborate further than that!

  3. I actually applied to Boston U, and midway through the application season, I realized that a one year program just wouldn't do it for me. I'm glad I'm doing a 3 year program as well. Your post makes me all the more excited to get into my program!

  4. "And what springs to mind is this: Thank god it is a three-year program!"

    I echo this ^^^ sentiment!

    Technically, I'll have had 4 years of MFAing before I graduate, and that's just fine with me! A few of my professors did a seminar on the notion of "writer's voice" last year, saying that while evaluating MFA applicants' statements of purpose, they tend to disregard writers who claim to have already "found their voice." I think you're on the right track! For me, a voice is really elusive; mine is continually evolving, always in flux, and I think that's the point.

    Great post!

  5. I wonder, though, if a writer's voice is always in flux, if it's possible then, or even more than possible: important to find your voice repeatedly, and that one of the tools we learn is to figure out what our voice is at the moment of the poem (or story), and what our purposes are with the poem (or story).

    I'm much agreed with you, Jennifer, about learning techniques, and the
    discovery that there's so much great writing kicks our writings' butts.

    And yet, I often find myself unmotivated by the truly great writers, especially the poets who capture the things I want to capture in my poems. (They say it better.)

    I'm more energized by writers who are trying whacky experiments and crazier things than in my own writing--not because I'm trying to write like them, but because they seem to open up my limited palette.

    And three cheers to your elegant sentences!

  6. i remember well that feeling of "OMG i suck" it is great to get it out the first year instead of in the midst of the thesis when you just want to cry! :)

  7. Yay!! Glad to hear your first year turned out great and that you've made noticeable improvements in your writing. That's what it's all about, right? I also am happy to have acquired the "I suck" lesson. The good thing is that pinponting specific ways in which the sucking occurs so I can be on the lookout for them in my writing. That's what I most appreciate.

  8. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who's realized I suck this year ;)

    I think all writers have multiple voices, all of which are true and valid and of worth; we talked about this a lot in my nonfiction workshop, and I really like the idea that we have all these different voices and get to choose which voice will do what we want to do in a particular project.


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