9 Assumptions about My First MFA Residency

I meant to post this entry last week, but there just wasn’t an opportunity. I’ll get to that a little further on. Last week, I attended my first ever MFA Creative Writing residency week. The event is like entering a bubble and, going in, I had certain assumptions that either proved true or did not. I’d like to share those with you here since some of these realizations played an important role in the takeaways of this wonderful experience. I’d like to preface this list by saying that I was in no way disappointed by the last week.


Assumption No. 1:

I knew exactly what I wanted to write for my thesis--a book about the witch craze.

Reality:

I had no idea what I wanted to write for my thesis. The fact is that while I will write the witch craze novel at some point, I don’t think it’s the right project for this degree for several reasons:

  • I have never been to the places where the novel occurs.
  • The amount of research to convincingly tell the story is beyond astronomical, and even though I’ve been researching for nearly a year, I’m still not there yet.
  • The themes I want to focus on can be best approached through other story ideas.


Assumption No. 2:

That my short story’s ending (the story I submitted for the workshop) would require some reworking.

Reality:

The whole story requires reworking because I was trying to fit what should be at least a novella into 20 pages. It’s not even that the ending doesn’t work. The short story reads more like a descriptive outline. There are also various plot changes I need to make. This is a project I will pick up someday because the idea behind it was so well received, and my peers and mentors felt the story had merit as an idea.

Assumption No. 3: 

My workshop day was going to be scary despite the fact that I’d endured critiques on my writing before.

Reality:

It wasn’t scary. It was awesome. I took 1,300 words worth of notes as my peers and mentors discussed the strengths and weaknesses of my work, and gave me brilliant ideas for how to improve it.

Assumption No. 4:

I would certainly not, as a first semester, be able to get up and read at one of the student readings.

Reality:

I love reading my work and listening to peers and faculty and graduates read their works. I attended a workshop that taught me how to read my work for an audience and it made all the difference. I didn’t read too fast. I didn’t use the same intonation repeatedly. After my first reading, a piece of a short story, I got a high-five, a hug, and accolades. The poetry I read at the wine & cheese evening was also well received. The more I read, the braver I felt reading.

Assumption No. 5:

I would have the time to write a blog entry and do some work in the evenings for earning money.

Reality:

No. Absolutely not. After 12-14 hour days, there was socializing. I was happy to meet and talk with my peers because I forged some incredible friendships. It’s like going away to camp--you’re basically living with people though you have your own room, and so you feel closer to them in a short period of time. By the time I actually made it back to my room at night, there was just enough time for a quick shower before hitting the hay. Even then I didn’t have the chance for more than six hours of sleep a night.

Assumption No. 6:

The food would be awful because it was a hotel.

Reality:

The food was actually quite tasty, with plenty of healthy--and healthful--options.

Assumption No. 7:

I wouldn’t spend any extra money.

Reality:

I spent about $150 on food and drinks over the course of the week. I also trekked up there with snacks. Still, not bad for an entire week of socializing and having to cover one meal a day (though sometimes I skipped lunch if I’d had a big breakfast).

Assumption No. 8:

I’d get to plan my own reading list.

Reality:

I got to make suggestions and requests, but the reading list is really up to my mentor. I’m fine with that. First up will be Ahab’s Wife, which I am thinking I will read with a focus on point-of-view.

Assumption No. 9:

I wouldn’t want to come home at the end of residency.

Reality:

While I missed my bed and family, saying goodbye was tough. I missed being fully immersed in a world where creative writing takes the stage. I missed being surrounded by people who got it, people who breathed it, people who understood that writing is so much more than a personal endeavor--that it’s a calling. Leaving was sad. I know I will be back in January but with each residency, it’s one less on the horizon. I know the time for this experience is limited and I will feel the sting of it when it ends. Until then, I’m going to keep allowing any assumptions to happily be cast aside.

Incidentally, the reason for so many assumptions is that I knew so little of what to expect. Even though I read the handbook so that I knew what workshops were required of me, when to check in, etcetera, approaching the first residency is really an exercise in trust. I put myself in the hands of others and thus far, I was not disappointed...only proved wrong in several ways. 

Now at the start of my first semester, I turn my focus to writing and polishing my own work. My first deadline is July 25, and by then I must read a few books, and write 36 pages of polished material (mostly fiction). I already started even though I’m still pretty beat from the last week. I’ll let you know how things are progressing in my next update.

Unpacking what I learned last week is like doing laundry after a long trip. I'm only through a portion big enough to get me through a few days. This post just represents a portion of what I've learned and hardly even touches on the benefits I drew from almost two dozen workshops. For now, suffice to say that I earned three credits in one week--that's the same for a whole semester for most college classes--so I don't expect that all the lessons will sink in right away.


Comments

  1. I've always found that these sorts of "like-minded" gatherings are some of the best ways to discover both myself and the much needed connection with others. It sounds like you had an amazing time (I was reading this with a "OH I wish I was doing this" at each "reality" you posted). Thank you for sharing, Margaret

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    Replies
    1. Hi Eden!

      Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Leaving residency was tough, but I'm already looking forward to my second one, which will take place in January 2018. I wish it were sooner, but alas, people must have time to celebrate holidays.

      I'm sure that while I will enter into my second residency without these assumptions, there will still be plenty to learn.

      Happy reading--and writing!
      Margaret

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