August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

June 26

Response from Lesléa

I got an initial response from my mentor, Lesléa, about the material I sent her for my first packet. I got a lot of positive feedback on Shadowed and my short critical essays. However Entangled, unsurprisingly, needs a lot of work.  I agree with most of the comments she made. And suspected some of the issues she mentioned.

Entangled needs a work and right now, with the initial comments thrumming in my head, I’m not sure how to make some of the changes, specifically, how do I get Maline into his role without readers going, “A real mother would question that”? I’ve had a few people who have already made suggestions on how I could possibly make it work.  I really like a few of them, but I need to see what kind of changes that would mean for the draft I have and how to make them all work, or use those ideas as inspiration.

Does anyone have ideas?  Anyone else willing to look at the fifteen pages I’m working on?  Or someone who is willing to just play sound board for me while I figure it out?

Lesléa’s email was encouraging but she did not hold back on what she thought needed improvement. So far, I only have an email from Lesléa. From what I understand she’ll be sending my submissions through the mail with her notes in the margins.  So I may get more detailed notes on the material when the packet arrives.  It seems to take mail a week to reach me from the East Coast, so I probably won’t get it until late this week, early next week. But I will let everyone know when I get it.

I also will be reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke instead of How It Ends by Laura Wiess. If you recall, How It Ends was on my original reading list at the very beginning of the semester. So far, no other books have been switched out.

For my next packet I plan on reading:

  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
  •  Girl Meets Boy This is due around the time my packet is but isn’t necessarily part of packet 2.
  • Make A Scene: Crafting A Powerful Story One Scene At A Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld  This one is more to help me make the changes I needed to make and not a necessity for the school semester.

I now have a Goodreads account for those who would like to follow my reading progress.

I’ll keep all of you up-to-date.
Thanks for the help and support.

Edited: Got the Hard copy packet today.

June 14

First Packet Due Soon

The due date for my first packet is drawing near and I’m busily trying to get the last-minute stuff done.  My novel has changed a lot since residency.  I don’t recognize the structure anymore, though the scenes themselves are familiar, except for one. It still has issues that I need to work out–the new scene is throwing me for a loop. I’m not sure what bothers me about it.  However, I’ve spent most of my time on Shadowed and not nearly enough time on Entangled 

Entangled is Lurynne’s book. It’s a story that’s been on the back burner for a while. I have several drafts of the book written out but have never been satisfied with what I wrote. Something has always been off. I’m not sure this draft–the one I’m trying to revise is going to work either. I may simply not be ready to write the book. It’s not time for me to play with it.  But the book–both of Lurynne’s books–dominate my mind. They want to be told. Being in the MFA program may be exactly what I need to get the story down in a satisfactory way.

What do I need to send in for my first packet? The following:

  • A 2-3 page cover letter discussing the enclosed material and asking questions about the material
  • 35-34 pages of fiction–excerpts from two novels
  • 2-3 short critical essays
  • cumulative bibliography in standard MLA format
  • cumulative list of titles of original creative work included in packets

Packets cannot exceed 50 pages length, total.

The cover letter is mostly done. I need to finish working on Entangled, otherwise the fiction pages are done.  I have one essay written.  I’m reading the book now so I can start writing the second one.  I still need to do the cumulative lists.But I think I have enough wiggle room to get everything done on time.

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me by editing my pieces, sometimes multiple times.  I’ll be working on packet 2 soon, which will be even harder to put together than this first one I’m sure. Let me know if you’re interested in reading new edits.  For packet two I plan on them being part of a different section of both books.  So you’ll get a break in that area.

June 6

Spalding: MFA Program Worth It?

I’ve been asked by a few writing friends if I thought the MFA program I’m in at Spalding will be worth the cost of tuition. Obviously I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t be enrolled and I won’t know for certain how I feel about the entire program until after I get through my first semester. But I thought I would explain what I’ve heard about MFA programs, what I’ve seen at Spalding, and what I think of the program so far for those who are curious.

**Please note, I’m not trying to promote Spalding.  It’s the only true reference I have to pull from experience-wise.**

A little information on Spalding first.  Spalding’s MFA program is a low-residency program.  That means students need to be on campus ten days a semester, which they call residency, unless you’re attending a summer semester.  In that case your 10 days will be spent in a foreign country.  This year students went to Paris, France. Next summer, they’ll go to Dublin, Ireland.  After the residency, students work from home with guidance from their mentor. Spalding offers Children’s/Young Adult fiction, Fiction, Screenwriting, Playwriting, Poetry, and Creative Non-fiction.  I learned about Spalding, because I was in close proximity of the school in High School.  I did not know about the MFA program until I saw it listed as one of the top 10 creative writing MFA programs in multiple writing magazines. To learn more about the program go to Spalding’s MFA website.

Creative Writing MFA programs only write literary fiction.

I’ve heard and read this a lot. I’ve also read that because they only write literary fiction, a lot of writing suffered from the program.  The author was a contemporary novelist and the school insisted on him/her writing literary. This was a concern for me. I’m a a contemporary writer and though I don’t mind reading literary pieces, I don’t believe I’d do well with that style of writing on more than a trial basis. This was especially a concern when I realized that the two books we needed to read before residency were both literary fiction.  However, we were required to workshop our peers writing during the residency as well. I found some reassurance in reading the excerpts.  Their were contemporary pieces to critique.

During the actual residency at Spalding, I picked up on a lot of their techniques and logic. They want their students well-rounded. So each semester they focus on a different aspect/genre of writing that they expect everyone to participate in during residency. Of course, they offer lectures on other topics, subjects and material. This semester the focus was on children’s books.  Next semester, from what I understand, the focus will be on screenwriting. They prefer students to do an exploratory semester their second semester–have them try something other than their focus.  A lot of people suggested I try screenwriting out, next semester. I believe you can try a different style for every semester if you like though. The different types of experiences will help the writing in different ways. Poetry for instance teaches rhythm and imagery.  Screenwriting teaches you how to tell a lot in a very short amount of space/time, etc.

No one said anything about restricting oneself to literary fiction when writing.  In fact a lot of contemporary novels were referenced in lectures. I’ve heard that a lot of MFA programs are literary focused, but I do not get the sense that Spalding is.

Creative Writing MFA programs result in one or two short stories a semester.

I work-shopped with ten students, an alum who was volunteering to help with the program and two mentors. I met several other people outside the group.  None of which, are going to be writing short stories during the semester. I will be working on two novels during my first semester.  Shadowed, and Entangled.

I’ve been editing Shadowed for years, as some of you may know.  I first wrote a rough draft of Entangled at fifteen.  I’ve rewritten it several times since then, in totally different ways, but have not yet fallen in love with a discovery draft yet. I doubt either book will be complete by the end of the semester.  But I imagine Shadowed will be much cleaner, more polished and significantly closer to being ready for publication. Hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I want to write out Entangled and even have a much stronger discovery draft–if not a rough draft carved out.

I’m hoping to have gone through the first 100 pages of both books with my mentor by the end of the semester.

I’ve heard from a few transfer students that their are writing programs like this–they have you turn short stories in throughout the semester and nothing more.  This often results in students graduating from college and never writing a story again, because they wrote to fill a deadline.  Spalding, I’m told, wants to teach students how to fit writing into their daily life, which is why they have the mentorship working the way they do.

Creative Writing MFA programs don’t teach you anything you can’t learn on your own.

I believe you can learn anything on your own, from car mechanics to archery to martial arts to crocheting.  Classes are always offered in those areas though. So, this statement is true in my mind, but I imagine you’ll learn a lot more and a lot faster with an experienced mentor at your side. Spalding’s mentors have all been published in their field. I know several of the ones in my field of concentration have won awards for their writing and have active careers. Each semester you’re supposed to work with a different mentor, which would give you more/different perspectives and experiences in writing, and in your writing than working with the same person year-after-year-after-year. You’re going to continue learning after the program–you never stop learning, but by the time I graduate from Spalding, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of how to figure out how to improve my writing and use the resources I picked up on, which will make me improve faster, even on my own.

You also meet a lot of great people at the residency, which not only can help you with your writing, or promoting your book but can also provide you with the emotional support you need when times are hard. You also have a great potential resource of information in areas you may need later for other books.  I met nurses, doctors, lawyers, waitresses, career-military, a baker…etc. A lot of great sources you’re not going to easily get on your own.

Creative Writing MFA programs are expensive.

Depending on your program and your income, they can be expensive. The lowest-priced one I’ve heard of is $7,000 a semester. At the moment, Spalding is looking at $7,900 a semester. Some will say that’s chump change, others, like me, will not.  Their are options, grants and scholarships can help with the cost, even for freshman.  Spalding doesn’t offer grants and only a very select few get scholarships, from my understanding.  Spalding does offer an assistantship program for those who want to go that route.  The more you work, the more they knock your tuition down.  I think the minimum they’ll knock it is $1,000. And, of course, student loans. Spalding allows you to stay in the program as long as you need, so long as you graduate in ten years.

My understanding of this is, you can apply for Spalding, pay $8,000 in cash for your first semester.  Wait two years to save up another $8,000, attend your second semester and keep the pattern going until you graduate.  You only need four semesters to graduate. It just depends on what you prefer and can afford.

Another way to think of it is that, sending your novel to a good, professional editor would cost approximately the same amount as you are spending on a semester at Spalding. (I’ve looked into the pricing but not extensively, so please correct me if you have better knowledge.)  I don’t just mean copy editing.

I’ve been told my mentor will read every page, dissect every paragraph and question every comma. She’ll make suggestions on how to improve my story AND help me get the story as grammatically correct as possible. That means I’d get proofreading, copy editing, substantive editing, and  developmental editing.  To get all those services, from what I’ve seen, you’ll have to pay significantly more than $8,000 a semester. All the while learning a lot more about writing than one would from such an editor.  I’m also not required to work on the same piece of writing for all four semesters.  I can work on something different each semester if I want.

To me, with everything I know about Spalding’s program, I think it’ll be worth going to an MFA program. I would recommend it to whoever is interested at this point, but I know it’s not for everyone. If this has tugged your interest and you’d like to know more about Spalding’s program, feel free to ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer them. As I’ve mentioned before, I also plan on recording as much of the experience as I can on this blog.

Are you in an MFA program?  Tell us about your experience. Would you be interested in trying one?  What would you most hope to gain from the program?

May 25

At MFA residency

The more time I spend at this residency, the more ideas I get for my story.  How to fix aspects and problem areas of it. I know who my mentor will be for the semester now. Her name is Lesléa Newman. She has been published and has a marvelous  reputation among the students for her critiquing ability.  One girl said, “She doesn’t leave a single comma unchallenged.” She sounds marvelous.  Strict but marvelous. I’m looking forward to learning from her.

A lot of the suggestions that have been made about “Shadowed” are not new.  A few suggestions caught me by surprise, like the suggestion that the book have a prologue.  What? I’ve always heard prologues were bad ideas for first time writers. But they had some good points on why I should go with a prologue.  Others are just occurring to me as I attend lecture after lecture on writing.

But I’m seeing a major rewrite in my future.  And the major rewrite will require the complete removal of at least one scene and the rewriting of two or three other scenes to reconnect everything. But by making such a big change–removing the one scene I believe the story will be significantly sharper, stronger and add a few more layers to the characters. There is so much I want to change, to play with, to work with.  But I should probably wait until lectures are over. That way I’m not re-changing changes to my story in a rather short amount of time.

For those of you who follow me fairly close on twitter and Facebook, you’ve probably seen me ask for suggestions on what YA books and writing reference books I should read. The list grew quite long and my mentor told me she didn’t want me reading reference books for the papers I need to write.  I’m supposed to read the book and then write a two to four page essay on a specific element in the story, like description, dialogue and pacing. But she does encourage me to read reference books if I feel they’ll help.

So Lesléa and I came up with a list of ten books for me to read through the semester.  The books can be switched out later if I want but for now these are what I’m looking at for reading material. I’ll try providing a URL for each book as I read them. In no particular order this is my initial reading list:

Which books have you read?  Any suggestions on which order I should read them?
I’m thinking about posting my element paper and a book review on each book as I finish reading them, on separate days, of course. Would anyone be interested in that?  Leave answers in comments.