Why this MFA?

Photograph by Sean McGowan

I know I haven’t posted much since I started my MFA program. I’ve been busy reading a lot of Fantasy books for one of my classes and doing a lot of writing and revising on my new story, which I’m very excited about. There are so many good things about the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction Masters in Fine Arts program. I want to share some of them with you.

First thing is in the title. It’s focused on genre fiction. Most programs at this level are centered on literary fiction, which to me seems pretentious and self-serving. There is still a strong faction within the academic community that looks down on genre fiction, but I think the writing in genre fiction is much more active and vibrant. The editing is tighter and the plot…there actually has to be a plot, moves faster and has purpose. We are taught that every scene should have a purpose and to focus on story and strong characters. There are lots of ways to write a book and the way the program is designed it’s flexible and demanding at the same time. They have a large (and growing) stable of mentors that work with students to offer advice on not just the writing but the larger career and business aspects.

The community of students, alumni and teachers is unparalleled. They may not be famous (yet), but they are smart and warm and talented. Some are well known in there genre and getting more attention all the time.  They stay connected and help each other daily. It might be the best part of the program. To be included in a large and growing community of people who write a lot and understand what you are dealing with is huge. It’s bigger than huge, since writing professionally is a fairly solitary endeavor, having a group to be part of makes all the difference in the world. And the expertise that’s available is rich and diverse, providing a deep pool of experience to draw from when you are writing about something you may not be all that familiar with.

The program orbits around the thesis and the thesis is designed from the beginning to be a marketable novel. The focus is on developing the writer’s skills while continually writing and revising the novel, getting feedback from other students and mentors along the way. It’s a built in team effort and it’s something special to have this much focus on a book during the development. Having writing partners is fantastic. Not only do they give your story fresh eyes, but they also encourage and push. I feel blessed to have such wonderful writing partners in the program. I hope that we remain partners as our writing careers go on long after we graduate the program.

They recently added the “F” part of the MFA which makes it accredited and allows a person to teach at the collegiate level. They have allowed prior graduates of the program to return and get their “F”, which is very cool. To me that’s just gravy. I don’t know if I will ever use it, but it’s nice to know that will be there.

The program only requires five days a semester to be on campus. It’s one of the lowest commitments of any program in the country and makes it much more palatable for those of us that have time consuming day jobs. It was the biggest factor in my choosing Seton Hill, but I couldn’t be happier with my choice. The residency is packed full, but the time we spend together is not only constructive but fun. We have time in the evenings to socialize and have special events, like book readings and dinners and even balls. The compressed time gives the residency an immediacy that serves to get a lot more involvement by everyone. I’m really looking forward to the next one.

If you have any interest in getting an MFA I give the Seton Hill program my highest endorsement. Good luck in your writing.

Clear Ether!

 

 

It’s much easier to edit someone else’s work!

This week I had something nice happen. I connected with a new writing partner! I’m very excited about it. She is a little farther along in the writer metamorphosis, she has two novels completed already, but has agreed to work with me. We shared some of our chapters and did line edits for each other and it was very eye-opening. I met her over on Natalie Whipple’s blog: http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/

She set up a Writing Buddy matching thing, which seems to have really taken off and is no longer on her sight. I feel very fortunate to have wandered over there at the right time.

I learned that it is much easier to edit someone else’s work than your own. This is likely for at least two reasons I can think of off the top of my head. First, it is material you aren’t familiar with. I can tell you my first chapter has been edited so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve rearranged it half a dozen times also. I’m intimately familiar with the story, so much so that I have a hard time seeing it clearly now. It really pays to have a fresh set of eyes on it.

The second reason it a little more esoteric. It’s not my story, and I have nothing emotionally invested in it. I haven’t spent 3 years toiling over it and stroking it and coaxing it to life. I can see sentences and structure and see things that are slightly confusing because I don’t know what the writer had in mind when they created it. As the creator you know the entire story of every character, at least as far as you care to. You know what they are thinking when you’re in their head, but the reader only sees the words and sometimes as writers we can get a little lost in there. It helps to have someone able to show us where the dots aren’t connecting properly.

I hope you have a writing buddy, if you don’t I am highly encouraging you to get one. We’ve just started working together and I am already reaping the rewards of that contact.

Good luck in your writing!

Clear Ether!