Thursday, April 26, 2012

MFA Retrospective: The Next Chapter

Dear readers,

I've been remiss in my blogosphere duties, so these posts have been sparse lately (though my page views mysteriously increase monthly). There are many writing resources I'd love to share with you, but it's crunch-time in MFA-land. It's hard to believe that almost two years have passed since I began my writing program at the University of San Francisco! I'm just beginning to sift through all my class notes, books and readers to glean what I've learned and apply some of those "craft strategies" to my summer project: revising my 200-page nonfiction manuscript--a collection of family-centered essays.

I've heard renowned writers say that the writing never gets easier, and I take heart each time I tackle a new assignment. My girlfriend reminded me this week, as I turned in my final fiction submission (a 20-page short story about a woman dealing with post-partum depression), that each time I face a new writing challenge I fear the ascent. I was anxious for weeks before my fiction class began: "What was I thinking? Fiction? Me?"

Funny, that's exactly what my inner naysayer said about applying to grad school. But once I started writing each story I found it was like any task--doing is always easier than anticipating.

Not to say that writing is easy; it will always be hard work. But something else I've noticed, and I owe it to meeting many deadlines, is that the inner critic has become much quieter. Whereas I used to edit as I wrote, I've been able to enter a more ethereal space where right-brain associations lead the pen (or keyboard). I'm much more prone to first getting the material on the page, then shaping it into something that makes meaning (all the while, my left-brain logic and language working to organize it).

"I don't write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know," writes Patricia Hampl in her article "Memory and Imagination." In other words, approach an essay or memoir as an investigation--into memory, truth, point of view, voice--rather than a mere recounting of events. Hampl says memoir is not reliving experience on the page, but an exploration of relationship between image and emotion that transforms experience, and the memory of it, into meaning.

Another wonderful outcome of graduate studies is that the "close reading" I've learned with which to approach any text (i.e. How was this piece created for a particular effect with regard to narrative voice, structure, characterization, etc.?) finally sunk in. At first I was completely flummoxed by the terminology and, more importantly, what the hell was taking place in a piece. Now I can't help but read as a writer, and almost always I think, "Hey, I could try that technique in such-and-such essay!"

I consider all that now as I face semester's end with final assignments, including a complete thesis draft (annotated with a compilation of comments and changes I'd like to make) due May 9. Thankfully, I'll be working under the kindly critical tutelage of my adviser, Lisa Harper, author of A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood. When not overwhelmed, I'm quite excited to experiment and play--especially with structure (for each essay and overall)--to achieve a "publishable book-length work" by August 1st.


1 comment:

PKB said...

Your persistence will take you far! I hope that you do well on your finals and writing pursuits. I always enjoy reading your heartfelt blog postings.

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