All posts tagged: Workshop

Natalie Lima Introduction (University of Alabama ’19)

Photo Credit: facebook.com/AlabamaFTBL Today is the first home football game of the season. It’s early September in the Deep South—Tuscaloosa, AL—and the streets are empty because the game is under way. There are no cars on the road. No people in line at Target. There’s not much to do, except maybe write. But I’ve been struggling with this part, the writing thing. At twenty-nine, I applied to MFA programs for precisely this reason: the time and space to write. People warned me that the degree would be useless. Don’t spend a dime on it, they said. So I didn’t. I applied to fully-funded programs, two years in a row. On my second round, I got into two and wait-listed at a third. At the program I chose, I received a great diversity fellowship, and I’m earning enough money to live on. I have an apartment with giant windows and tons of sunlight. Everything is just as I wanted, just as I envisioned an ideal writing setting. Yet, for some reason, I’ve been struggling to put …

On Proving I Exist

Image: Kevin Dooley Note: The author asked for this piece to be published anonymously. All names and locations have been removed. Recently I attended my first real writing workshop. I had a great time. Generally. There was this incredible generative vibe, this real feeling that we were all in it together, working on our best stories. I adored my instructor and my classmates, most of them, except for one. They were a former lawyer writing about their clients. Noble on the face of it, until you read the parts of their thinly veiled life account in which they called those clients “pieces of shit” or explained that one had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, “meaning they were an asshole.” When they didn’t openly hate them, they wrote about them in a way that came across, mostly, as trauma porn. They revelled in the torture of an old person in prison, and I should mention that the story also included enough information about this particular prisoner and their case that I was able to discover their real name within five minutes of opening up …

An Inside Look With Mary B. Sellers, Louisiana State University ’18

Image: Billy Metcalf What is it like living in Baton Rouge? How far does your stipend go there living wise? I have the advantage of growing up in the South, so I wasn’t too worried about any ‘cultural shock’. But Baton Rouge itself—it’s a nice city. It’s got that “Louisiana” texture to it which I find delightful—like: big, beautiful trees, too many shrimp poboy signs to count, shockingly lax liquor laws… But one of the best things about living here is the proximity to New Orleans. It’s about an hour South (depending on whether you’re more of the speed-demon or grandma driving type), which is an easy drive to do, even for a day trip. There’s also Mardi Gras, which is a life-changer. Really. I don’t think anyone should be allowed to leave this Earth without experiencing a true Louisiana Mardi Gras. Baton Rouge has its own parades, too, which are just as fun as the New Orleans ones, but more intimate (translation: better chance of getting beads). As for safety, it’s varied. There are safe …

An Inside Look With Kenny Stoneman, Kingston University ’15

Image: Barnyz A note from Kenny: There didn’t seem to be a natural place to mention it, but I attended the MFA program at Kingston University – London from September 2014 – September 2015.  Because I only finished the first year, I received an MA, rather than the full MFA.  Most schools in the UK work that way – the MA is the first year, while the MFA is the second. What was it like living in London? How did you navigate the cost of living there? Lesson #1 about living in London: it’s expensive. There is absolutely no way around that fact, although I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to very many people. Be prepared to budget, and also be ready for exorbitant prices on just about everything. But there are a few things most Americans won’t realize about London until they get there. For thing, if you’re on a student visa, you are legally not allowed to work more than 20 hrs/wk, so unless you’re independently wealthy, you will need student loans to support yourself. I …

On Anxiety & Writing in the MFA

Image: Porsche Brosseau “Well, it seems to me, based on what I’m hearing, that you have what’s called general anxiety.” This comes as no surprise, but the psychologist looks at me with expectation, searching for some kind of reaction to the news. I nod and look away, already crystallized with this information, a thing lived every day for my whole life. Of course I have anxiety—I have been anxious always, always worrying about how I am perceived, always brought to tears when someone dislikes me, always fixated on illnesses to the point of hypochondria. My anxiety can be cruel and self-torturing, a thing that drains me, that pulls me away from the good things that have entered my life. I collapse at a single “bad” thought—a thought that is unreasonable, hyperbolic, “crazy.” I get obsessed, my brain compelling me to go online and look at WebMD, to look at images of gore, to search the internet for any unkind opinion of myself. I indulge in my fears about death, my health, my self-perception, I see …

An Inside Look With Dan Calhoun, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Image: Kent Kanouse What is it like living in Lafayette? How far does your stipend go there living wise? Lafayette is in an interesting area. One of the upsides is the rich Cajun culture. The food is fantastic (red beans and rice, boudin and sausage, etouffee and fresh seafood) there are tons of festivals, and the locals are friendly. Another plus is New Orleans is a pleasant two hour car ride away from Lafayette (and Baton Rouge is a one hour car ride away and Houston is a three car ride away). Lafayette has the essentials: a good mix of local stores and restaurants and chain stores and restaurants. And if you happen to love daiquiris, Lafayette is paradise. There are at least six different bars dedicated to daiquiris (Daiquiris Supreme is my personal favorite).  The downside to Lafayette is the heat (summer is brutal!) and the traffic. Why did you decide to pursue a PhD after graduating from Wichita State? I decided to pursue a PhD because I wanted a few more years to work …

Goodbye to the MFA Program, Not to Writing

Image: Kevin O’Mara   I am graduating in less than a month from my MFA program. I am awestruck that the two years are over. I’ve met so many lively characters and have been mentored in my writing. All I can say now is I will take what I need and leave the rest.  What does that even mean? It means I integrated into my mental scripts some extra things: doubt about whether what I’m writing is realistic or will be well received. Things like that I will leave behind. Learning that my stories are worth telling, that I will take with me. I have to say I am leaving my MFA program with a heavy suitcase full of positive life-affirming skills. I learned skills that go beyond writing; I learned skills that make me a better listener and a better person. I was hospitalized twice during my MFA years. I learned through those experiences I was determined to finish. I also learned I was a harder worker than I gave myself credit for. I showed up …

Achievement Unlocked: An MFA Year in Review

I’ve struggled with how to approach what should be a fairly straightforward overview post of my first year in an MFA program. I considered starting with an anecdote that would be both amusing and slightly self-deprecating, because if writers are good at anything other than, well, writing, it’s self-deprecation. I considered starting completely off-topic—say, my love for biscuits—and turning the whole post into a convoluted but apt metaphor for writing. Neither approach felt quite right. I started over from scratch so many times, each attempt more frustrating than the last, until I began to realize that my inability to hold the arc of my first-year narrative in my writer’s eye was a symptom of an issue I have dealt with all year (for many years, actually): my battle with plot, organization, and continuity. Though “plot” is usually relegated to fiction writers, nonfiction writers—especially narrative nonfiction writers—have to work with it as well to some extent. The difference is, of course, that we essayists avail ourselves to a different set of key words, so to speak. …

M.F.A. (Master’s of Feedback Appreciation)

First Year at University of New Mexico: A Round-Up, A Reflection…

What I Learned in Year One of an MFA Program

In this post I’m supposed to be wrapping up my academic year, only I’m in the odd situation of having no year to discuss. Which isn’t to say I haven’t, you know, been alive and attending an MFA since August. It’s just that I’ve used my platform here to give out advice about publishing and applying, because probably that’s the most helpful thing I can do for anybody reading this blog. And I don’t like to mention the inner workings of my program, the glory and the drama, because I’m trying to be discrete. Chill. Classy. As the great Amy Poehler once wrote, “I don’t want people to know my shit!” But fine, let’s discuss what I’ve been doing, and if y’all glean any lessons from it, then good for you. *** First, the boring professional stuff. The application story from my undergrad writing workshop at UMass Boston, which I submitted in order to get into this MFA, won a contest at New Letters. The first story I wrote was a huge floop that needs …