Thursday, September 30, 2010

State of the MFA: Year Three

It's completely crazy around here. And I'm sleep deprived.

I've been referring to this week as The Eight Day Slog Through Hell and that was accurate ... until the slog got extended to ten days.

After The Ten Day Slog Through Hell is over, I will take a deep breath, a long nap, and then attempt to put together my first job application dossier.

I've talked with people who think my third year is my thesis year. There are programs that work that way. You do two years of coursework and then draft your thesis project on your own time away from the school. For me, yes, year three is thesis year, but I'm still doing course work. Lots and lots of coursework.

For me, year three is the year where I take all the extra hours over the "normal" amount because they wouldn't let me take them when I arrived -- back when I was bored because I had so much time on my hands. Now, when I am an editor and going on the job market, now I have to take extra classes. Yes. Brilliant people. Thanks for talking me into this wonderful set up. Not. Really. So. Much.

I'm sort of working on my thesis. Sort of. Mostly I'm just doing what I need to to get by. And I'm trying to write new stories for workshop that will fit in my thesis.

Official guidelines for writing your thesis project: completion of a book length work of publishable quality. That's all the guidelines say. ALL. Nine words to describe the project without which you cannot get your degree. Thx.

Popular student opinion on how you write a thesis project: take everything you've turned in for workshop, dust, polish, write a table of contents. Which I think is kind of lame. There were a lot of stories I wrote back in the beginning of this workshop that I have no intention of touching again, let alone polishing. Actually, Allison wrote a recent post on something like this.

For one, I'm a much better writer than I was back then. I can't do cosmetic surgery on those stories and expect them to be part of a publishable collection. They'd require surgery on the Dr. Frankenstein level.

For two, I have different interests now. I've written a bunch of disparate stuff over the past couple of years -- realism, fabalism, non-fiction, fantasy -- stuff that's only common thread is that I'm its author.

So I'm writing a bunch of new stuff. I've got two pieces that are done, edited, boom, ready to go. And another four short stories and one would-be-novella that are drafted and need major overhauls. So that's what I'm doing. I'm leaving out stories because they don't fit the collection.

And I want direction -- I plan on demanding direction -- from my advisors about how putting together a collection (and publishing it) works. That info is the kind of thing I've found you have to demand. Part of the art of paddling up river (to invoke the metaphor I started with the earlier State of the MFA posts).

I'm taking control now. I'm paddling. I'm threatening people with the paddle and I'll whack them with it if need be. I'm not waiting for the river to spit me out somewhere. In fact, I'm not entirely certain that I don't want to make my way to an entirely different river. That is, of course, if I don't pass out in my boat from exhaustion first.

Highly Recommended