Before starting school, I wasn't sure what I was in for. I am in a low-residency MFA program, which means that we meet for a 10-day conference once a semester. The rest of my work is done independently from home, with no classroom time. I have never so much as taken an online course and only know of academics in the way I have experienced it, so perhaps I was a bit skeptical.
I left residency with a reading list of ten books. I had an epiphany at residency that I write when I read, but only when I read books which inspire something in me. What I had been reading hadn't inspired anything, and I hadn't been writing. So this list of books was exciting: fresh fodder. I was about to read books suggested by another writer specifically for me and my craft. And not just another writer: an accomplished, intelligent one who just happens to have founded this entire MFA program. Kind of a big deal.
At residency, I met friends: fellow writers who share my passion. We had long talks about books and authors and punctuation. It was my heaven. We work shopped each other: we each submitted about twenty pages of work and got feedback from fresh eyes. This feedback is not friends or family who want to protect my feelings. This feedback is from other writers who want to see me produce my best work. It has been so valuable. I immediately noticed patterns and tendencies I wanted to change. I have never liked the tedious act of revision, but I left residency excited for a fresh start on this same old novel I've been writing for over two years.
Yesterday, I submitted my first packet. Each month I submit a packet before a deadline. These packets are a collection of novel revision, new work, and critical essays over the what I have read. I hadn't anticipated writing anything except my novel during this process. But the new writing I wrote I found the most exciting. I dabbled in short stories and was invigorated by writing new characters, exploring characters, themes and epiphanies that would never fit within my novel.
I did all of this in the same month that I completed editing a large manuscript, worked a part-time job, and traveled to NYC for a week. I have a feeling of great accomplishment today. This low-residency MFA program is teaching me much more than I had anticipated. I have friends I met at workshop who look over my work before I submit it now and offer suggestions to improve it. I am progressing toward something now. But as my mentor replied in his email, just because my first packet is complete doesn't mean I stop. I have another deadline next month with the same requirements. Really, it's the momentum that I need more than anything: this force driving me to write on, no matter what.