Don’t Freak Out

Lesley University’s MFA Program in Writing for Young People

Steven Cramer, the Director of the Creative Writing MFA at Lesley spoke to us during our first semester orientation class in June.

One of the first things he said was, “‘The Work’ should be more fun than fun.”

I’m not sure if I can live up to this, but its definitely what I strive for. I’d say half of the people I know who write love it completely. The other half, who I tend to work more closely with, are the ones for whom writing is a labor and a struggle. It’s not something ‘fun’ but we love it in our own way. The act of creation is a labor; even if it doesn’t feel like it’s one of love sometimes, we keep going.

“We are better critics for others than for ourselves. You are your first and worst critic.”

TRUTH. At this point during the seminar, I doodled a writer throwing their wine glass and manuscript into the fire and watching them burn.

Then we were given terrifying advice on How Not to Waste this Opportunity.

“If a great creative vigor isn’t employed in the attendance of an MFA program someone is cheating themselves.”

On the spectrum of creative people, I am of the type who like to self-sabotage unconsciously. (For the thrill? For the stress? Because creative brains are broken and put back together strangely?) Whatever the reason, I am prone to procrastination, all-nighters, breakdowns, and napping when I have free time rather than writing.

My eyes got big and watery. I was loving the whole experience, getting all these big ideas, but how long would my motivation hang in with me? I wanted to succeed. I worked so hard to be here…

The next thing was, Don’t freak out.”

This program has been running at Lesley University for 11 years. I was not the first person to be this way, and I will not be the last. What followed was a list that seemed tailored to people like me.

  • Don’t freak out
  • Be proactive
  • Work on time management
  • Communication is key: Communicate with your mentors.
  • Be fluid. Bring in raw stuff.
  • You’re not locked into the thing you came in doing in this program. Experiment!
  • Writers have to allow themselves to write badly.
  • Writers have to forbid themselves to settle for anything other than the best they can do.
  • Use this time to delve into your own psychology.
  • There’s a lot of scope for getting it right.

Some seminars were refreshingly full of swearing. It made me feel right at home. These were usually the seminars focused on the task of writing itself; swearing is a part of the process. Ask many classic American authors. Mark Twain was a great fan of swearing.

Advice on Submissions:

  • Some people work every night, only work on the weekends, or pull all-nighters.
  • What are you trying to do? How can your mentor help you get there?
  • Giving up the notion that you already have a voice or style will set you free.
  • Promise is a style in the process of defining itself.
  • Before sending your work to anyone else, ask yourself: Is this the work of a writer who cares about what they’re writing? 

Chris Lynch’s Introduction to Workshopping and Critique:

  • Try to tune into what the writer wants to do rather than what you like to read.
  • Read a lot of good adult writers even if its not your genre/category [ex. writing for children]. Don’t limit yourself.
  • There’s nothing that’s not possible in fiction.

In Laurie Foos’ seminar on “Courting the Muse,” tactics for keeping the creative energy flowing, she said, “I know where you’re going. I know where you’ve been. This is your opportunity to put writing at the center of your life.”

And that was the best thing about the residency: You’re with other people who strove to be here to become better writers. To take their passion and hone it into something.

I always love hearing about other writers’ neuroses and habits and fears and interests and talents. There’s nothing like being in this community.

And I think that is the point of residencies in low-res MFA programs:

You’re not alone.

Don’t freak out.

Justice

“When hundreds of women descended on Nagpur district court armed with knives, stones and chili powder, within minutes the man who raped them lay dead.”

‘Arrest us all’: the 200 women who killed a rapist

I don’t believe in the death penalty in most cases, or that people should take the law into their own hands. Not because I think despicable people deserve to live, but that I realize our justice system is flawed. To err is human, and we discover innocence on death row far too often to confidently mete out mortal justice.

But then, I read their story.

Imagine: You’re a young woman in India, growing up poor in Kasturba Nagar, a slum in the city of Nagpur.

Continue reading

Art and Illustrations

I know so many talented professional illustrators in this business. I love experimenting with mixed media, but comparatively, I am obviously a novice.

Someday I’d love to take more life drawing and illustration courses, but I probably won’t pursue art in my career, at least at a time when I’m concentrating so deeply on my writing.

What I do love getting out of my art is being able to show it to my friends and family, and gift them with some. So, I’ve created a gallery on this site to display work that I do when I’m supposed to be writing.

My Gallery

My first graduate school writing submission is due in three weeks, so expect many updates and a peak in blogging productivity as I avoid it for as long as possible.

On the Creative Mind

I see inspiration as an energy bar like the one floating above your character’s head in a video game. The act of creation drains that bar, and your task is to fill it again by reading, looking at art, taking trips to new places, or even just creating a new experience locally.

Like many of us artistic-types, I struggle with boredom, depression; a dry well where flowing creativity should be.  Continue reading

Ten Books that I Still Think About

Many of these I read as a child; a lot of our favorites from that time stay with us. But a few more contemporary works have snuck in there. I can’t resist a good fantasy.

In no particular order:
1. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

An orphan boy named Cat Chant finds out he is a powerful enchanter who has nine lives that were transformed into a book of matches. The betrayal of the sister he saw as a mother figure, a girl who used his lives in order to selfishly give herself more power really interested me.

2. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Funny historical fiction. A medieval lord’s daughter, who subverts the trope of beautiful Ladies who are quite well behaved, is really rude and plays pranks and plays with the pig boy. I was enchanted.  Continue reading

Boston/New England Area Events

I always find a lot of great events around Boston, many of them book/writing-related. I always forget to invite people until the last minute, so have some Event Round-ups!

So here are some things on the calendar:

Bookbuilders Bowling Night

Where: Sacco’s Bowling Heaven in Davis Square

When: April 10th from 6-8pm

Cost: $6, and pre-register

Why?: Networking and bowling! Only $6. And bowling!

https://www.bbboston.org/  Continue reading

INDIES: How Independent Publishers & Bookstores are Surviving & Thriving in Today’s Market

This was a panel put on as part of Bookbuilders of Boston‘s Spring Workshops. It was hosted at Emerson College. Well worth attending; the cheese plate was delicious.

Our panelists were: 

The affable Ned Lomigora, a sales rep at Zeeen, an online promotional platform for authors that especially works with Indies. He specializes in analytics and digital media. He’s also a presenter and contributor for WordPress Boston.

The illustrious Dale Szceblowski, the General Manager at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, one of the hubs of the literary scene in the Boston area. He’s been in the book-buying and book-selling business for 30 years. Vice President of the New England Booksellers Association.

And the perspicacious Judith Rosen, a Senior Bookselling Editor and the New England correspondent at Publishers Weekly for 15 years. Previously she has worked in marketing and publicity for trade publishers, Wordsworth Books, and wrote a regular column for the Boston Herald. Continue reading