WUW: Vacation killed my productivity

What’s Up Wednesday is an easy and fun weekly blog hop that’s hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk. All you do is answer the four main questions, then visit the other participants’ blogs to see what they’re up to this week. Join us! Jooooiiiin uussss!

wuw robotWHAT I’M READING

So I finished Dreams of Gods and Monsters several weeks ago and oh my goodness, so good. I loved it. Yes, there were some pacing issues, and a few other flaws, but I didn’t care. It was so beautifully written and so literary! I cried when I finished it because it was so beautiful and I was sad it was over and there were just so many emotions coursing through me. I want to read the whole series all over again, but that will have to wait. Then I critiqued an awesome book for one of my friends. I’m currently reading The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea for my book club. It’s a non-fiction book about illegal immigration over the Mexican border, so it’s a far cry from my normal reading habits. But the writing is fantastic and I’m enjoying it so far.

WHAT I’M WRITING

I’m finally getting into revisions again! So, Turbo and I spent 3 weeks in Charleston, SC, visiting my family. The first week, I stayed with my productivity, using nap time for “writing” time (aka brainstorming) since my parents both work. But then my little sister flew in for the last two weeks and that ended all that, although we did have some helpful book chats. Then I flew home and read my friend’s book. Then I decided to take a last minute trip to Utah to see my family out there, and of course, no writing was done. But my sister was out there and we had more helpful chats. I’ve been in a real mental block with rearranging my plot. I returned home on Friday and all weekend have been reading and re-reading my betas’ feedback, as well as studying up on structure over at Helping Writers Become Authors. Yesterday I did some brainstorming via hand written notes, and felt very close to figuring it out. A quick chat with my sister last night, and Eureka! I finally know what needs to be done.

In case you’re wondering, I do not believe in writer’s block. :) You can figure anything out with enough time and efforts, and different methods of “attack.” I’m a big proponent of talking it out and handwritten brainstorming. They always come through for me.

WHAT INSPIRES ME

See above. ^_^

WHAT ELSE I’M UP TO

So yes, I went to South Carolina for 3 weeks and Utah for 5 days. It was so much fun! I ate out several times, went to the beach twice, rode on bikes downtown and around my old neighborhood, and just enjoyed life. I also went to the Alumni Weekend for my MFA program at Converse College. It was so wonderful to be physically in the writing world, and specifically the literary writing world. I attended multi-genre workshops (loved the feedback from the poets), lectures, and readings, and it all helped me remember how much I love literary writing and reaffirmed my resolve to be a literary YA fantasy writer.

In my last post, I promised I was working on something, but that something will have to wait until I finish this draft. Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of July, or not much after. We have lots of people coming to visit in the next month, but I’m not slipping back to my procrastinator ways again.

How’s your summer going? It’s good to be back!

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What Do Your Characters Want?

I’m in the midst of the Revision Cave*, and the other day I remembered some very wise words from my professor, the fabulous Leslie Pietrzyk**:

In every story and every scene, think about what your characters want. Even the minor ones. What do they want? Even if it’s just “a glass of water” (her famous example), use that as the motivation for everything they do. Tension will naturally arise from your characters’ desires interacting and conflicting with each other.

If you’re like me, when you first hear any advice like this, you think, “Another thing to keep in mind? As if my brain wasn’t already supersaturated with craft and grammar?”

But then you think about it (again, if you’re like me), and then you’re all, “Well, if someone said it, it’s really important!”

Then you think some more, and then, “This is great advice!”

And then you get overwhelmed again because there is so much to remember when writing stories!!

And then you remember, “Oh yeah! That’s what revisions are for! And critique partners! And beta readers!”

And then you get a little glum because you realize this process takes a LONG TIME.

But it’s fun, yes?

Anyhow, I digress. (Digress? How about tangent city?)

I have found when I keep this in mind, not only does it add to and improve the tension in my story and each scene, but it also helps flesh out characters. We should know ALL of our characters inside and out, not just the protag or the LI or the antag. (If you feel overwhelmed, see the above process.)

What’s some great advice you’ve been given over your writing career?

**Yes, I’ve sung Leslie’s praises before. AND I WILL NEVER STOP!

So … I’m done

And it’s kind of a weird feeling. For the first time ever in my life, I could be done with school for good.

(I say ‘could’ because I haven’t ruled out the possibility of a PhD. I’m crazy, I know.)

But it’s also an AMAZING feeling. I technically don’t graduate until May, but I have completed everything, all requirements. I’ve even already applied for graduation. Now I can just relax. (Hah! Yeah right. I have books to write and an agent to hunt down find.)

Both my lecture and my thesis reading went well. The Mister even flew out for my reading on Saturday night! And my parents and younger brother drove up. All of the graduates (8 of us) did a fantastic job, and once again I felt so lucky to be included in such a talented group.

And now, a few pictures!

Reading from my thesis

Converse May 2012 Graduates!

(Actually, from this angle you can’t see one of the poetry graduates. She wanted to stand behind us, and somehow managed to disappear. Silly Kathleen.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so glad I had this opportunity to get my MFA, and even more grateful for the incomparable instruction I received at Converse College. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it changed my life.

Life will calm down now and I’m looking forward to that. I’ll be back up to my normal at-least-3-posts-a-week posting schedule this week. And I’ll be able to really read all of your lovely blogs! w00t!

And perhaps the biggest thing is I have a goal to finish the (new) first draft of SPARKS, which actually (finally) has a new title: FRACTURED RADIANCE. I’m aiming to finish it by the end of this month, so I need to get writing. Weee!

Write Until Something Surprises You

My fabulous prof, Leslie Pietrzyk, reminds us of this advice at every residency. It’s become one of my favorite mantras. (And apparently one of her favorite teachers, Richard Bausch, imparted those words of wisdom to Leslie. And thus, the circle continues…)

Things have been quiet here this week because my attention has been on getting all Christmasy things done. Shopping, wrapping, shipping, and decorating are all done! Huzzah! I even braved the mall yesterday, and let me tell you, that place was crazy. But not as crazy as Costco. Yeesh.

Why I Chose to Get a Low-Res MFA

I’m going to break this post down into two parts: why I decided to get an MFA, and why I went with a low residency program. I would’ve made that my title, but goodness, that’d be forever long!!

Part the First: Why I Chose to Get an MFA

Firstly, I’ve always wanted to get my Masters. It’s just this crazy goal I’ve had ever since I was in middle school or so. Especially when I ended up majoring in Linguistics, I knew I had to get my Masters in something because a BA in Linguistics is pretty useless on its own.

I considered a few things, like TESOL (teaching english to speakers of other languages) and Library Sciences. But nothing made me super excited. Nothing grabbed my imagination and passion. Until I thought, What about an MFA?

I love to write. I want to get my Masters. PERFECT! It’s like peanut butter and jelly! Like mashed potatoes and gravy! Like ketchup and fried chicken! (Anyone?)

But here’s the thing: YOU DON’T NEED AN MFA TO WRITE. You don’t need it to improve your craft. You don’t need it to become published.

Here’s what you do need it for: Teaching College. And I really liked that idea. I’d considered my Masters in Linguistics so I could teach, but you have to get your PhD to teach Linguistics and let’s be honest, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to write a dissertation.

Reasons I loved the idea of an MFA:

Uno) I could teach with it. The MFA is a terminal degree. AKA, it’s the equivalent to a PhD in other fields (so take that, all you doctorates!).

Ni) If I decided not to go the teaching route, it would certainly help if I wanted to go into editing or publishing.

Three) My writing certainly would improve and at a much faster rate than just on my own/with a writer’s group/with the help of critique partners/being bitten by a radioactive writing spider. (Okay, maybe not that last one. But less painful!) Just ask my writer’s group–my writing has improved drastically over the past year and a half. In the first semester alone they were amazed at the improvement!

So it was settled: MFA in Creative Writing it was. But where?

Part the Second: Why Low Residency

Little did I know that my foray into research had only begun. There are lots of traditional programs in the area. But they’re all more expensive and I’d have to quit my job. I kinda didn’t want to do that. I liked earning money. It was nice not being poor anymore.

A little more digging alerted me to the existence of low residency programs. And a bit more told me they were legit! Sweetacular! This was it!

Benefits of an MFA:

One) Could keep my job. Mr. Atkins liked that aspect, too.

Due) Typically more inexpensive. Again, Mr. Atkins approved.

San) The student-to-teacher ratio is much lower.

Quatre) I like traveling, so the idea of residencies appealed to me.

I won’t tell you my whole process, but basically I found this awesome website that listed just about every low-res program out there (I wish I still had the link, but drat it all, I don’t!). (Edit: A classmate sent me the link she used to search programs: http://guide.awpwriter.org/. I’ll bet it’s more reliable than the one I used, which was a blog.) I visited each website and found an initial nine or ten programs that caught my eye for whatever reason. Then I narrowed it down to 5 programs to apply to. Converse College was at the top of my list because a) I knew the school and b) it’s proximity to my parents meant I’d be able to see them whenever I had a residency. I applied, was accepted, and committed to Converse.

I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER WITH MY DECISION.

(enter plug for my school!)

I love the community of writers. There are about 12 fiction students and 3 fiction professors (with about 30 students overall in fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry). We are a tight knit little group. One of my classmates is now one of my bestest of friends. Our professors are AMAZING. I cannot believe the faculty. They are insanely talented writers and passionate instructors. The full-time fiction staff consists of Robert Olmstead, Leslie Pietrzyk, and Marlin Barton. I’ve spent one semester with each, and I’m on my second with Leslie. I loved my linguistics program at BYU, but even with 30 kids in the program, I never got to know any of my professors very well. That’s not the case at Converse. Not only are the profs always available for help during the semester, they also take time to talk to us students during the residency, even if we’re not their student for the semester. I know all of the professors in the program and have had in-depth discussions with all of them.

Wanna see how personalized the attention is? Here’s a personal promise from Leslie:

We’re a small, personal, tightly-knit program, where writers thrive (in my humble opinion).  Just to show you how intensely personal we are, I hereby promise that if you end up at Converse, I will personally make sure you get a trip to the famous Beacon Drive In for a Chili Cheese A’Plenty, which is a cheeseburger topped with chili topped with a giant handful of fries topped with a giant handful of onion rings.  If you’re a vegetarian don’t worry—you get a Fried Pimento Cheese A’Plenty.

(taken from her blog)

An MFA isn’t for everyone. I know that. But it was right for me. So if you’re thinking about getting your MFA but you’re not sure about a traditional program, seriously consider a low residency one. They are just as good as the traditional model. And if you’re interested in a low-res program, check out the Converse College MFA. The deadline for admissions for spring semester is October 1st! ^_^

Wear Your Heart on Your Page

One of the best compliments ever given to me about my writing also served as a great check to me. My former professor, the ridiculously intelligent Robert Olmstead told me, “You know how to write well. You just need to figure out what to say.”

First of all, it took all my decorum not to break out into a happy dance right then and there, ala Elaine from Seinfeld.

Bob’s one of those people who doesn’t give praise lightly, so when he does, you know he means it (I love those people). But afterwards, it really made me think: What do I want to say?

Strong emotions, due to reasons I won’t go into on this blog, are something of a conundrum for me: I am very susceptible to them and because of that I fear them. When I am hit with strong emotion, I let them take over. Let’s be honest, I don’t use my brain very much when calm and when taken over by emotion, I lose what little sense I possess. So, for the past year and a half, I’ve been writing interesting, yet dry stories.

I read an  article five or six months ago and I can’t remember where, but it basically said MFA programs are killing literature. Obviously, I don’t agree with that, but the author asserted that literary journals are being inundated with tons of well-written, but emotionally empty stories.

I realized I was one of those authors.

So what did I do? I swallowed my fear, pulled out my laptop, and threw my heart into my stories.

And let me tell you: IT HURTS. And it’s invigorating. When my protags are in pain, I throw all of my pain into the writing. When they’re happy, I find myself grinning from ear to ear. The feedback from my writing group has been unanimous: my stories are stronger, more interesting, more captivating. They are finally starting to connect with my chars and care about them.

We want our readers to cry with our characters. But first, we the writers need to cry with them (the chars… maybe the readers, too.)

Just don’t forget the tissue.