MFA Confidential Blog

Final Post :(

Well, the school year is finally over and with it comes the end of my tenure here at MFA Confidential. I want to thank Writer’s Digest for giving me this wonderful opportunity to reflect on my MFA experience in a magazine with a national readership. It’s been such an honor and...

Another Year Over

Today begins my last week of classes for the spring semester. This time next year, if all goes as planned (which it rarely does) I will be submitting my thesis and graduating with my MFA degree. Then what? Well, if I’m going to think positively, I suppose the next step is...

Not Taking it Personally

One of the best parts of receiving an MFA is the steady feedback you get about your work from both teachers and classmates. This feedback is often invaluable in the rewrite process, and when you’ve been working on a chapter or story for so long, and you’ve been thinking about it...

Advice from Those Who've Made It

Everybody’s got that one friend who keeps the group apprised of all things cool and culturally relevant. My close friend, Theresa, is that person for me. Theresa was the first person I knew to have an IPhone, she knows the best restaurants in Chicago that don’t make it into Chicago Magazine...

Editing

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about rejection letters and how they make writers feel. But what I’m learning in my class this semester is that the best way to feel better about rejection is to become an editor yourself. As editors of Columbia’s literary anthology Hair Trigger, we read through...

What is Your Publishing Persona?

Some people in my grad program submit their work to magazines and contests often, some sporadically, and some not at all. I’ll freely admit that I fall into the first category. I guess it’s because before I started my MFA, I spent so many years writing in the dark, afraid to...

Registration Time

I can’t believe it, but it’s already time to register for fall classes. And I can’t believe it even more that after this summer, I won’t have anymore classes to register for. This summer, I’m taking my final fiction writing seminar in Florence, and next year it’s just a matter of...

Stopping the Block

Does writer’s block exist? I tell my students, when they don’t want to do a creative writing assignment and use writer’s block as an excuse, that you can always write something. That even the term “writer’s block” is just a phrase made up by the procrastinators. But that’s my duty as...

The Discontented Writer

I think it was in high school British Lit class, when I was learning about the Romantic poets—Keats and Shelley and Byron and that whole crew, that I began to develop my belief that writers are fragile, delicate artists—prone to substance abuse and crying jags, passionate, doomed love affairs, more susceptible...

MFA: Art or Business?

MFA programs are art programs. They exist to help students learn to create the strongest stories and the most beautiful writing they possibly can. But do they also have a responsibility to teach students about the business end of the literary industry so that one day, after all the money we’ve...

Storyweek

It’s Storyweek at Columbia, a weeklong festival that celebrates writing and the literary life in various venues across the city. There are readings by authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Aleksandar Hemon, Gerard Woodward, and Jennifer Egan, panel discussions, and parties. It’s basically a reminder and a celebration of the fact that...

Quick Post!

It’s a miracle: I’m not only on time to class tonight,  but I’ve actually arrived with ten minutes to spare!  I was so excited about this I thought I’d stop by the computer lab here on the twelfth floor and write a quick post. This has been one of those semesters...

Thoughts From a Teacher-Writer

As a teacher and a writer, I’ve got something to say. I don’t write this as a complaint, but rather, because I am getting so sick and tired of the constant maligning of teachers and teachers’ unions that I am seeing everywhere I turn: Facebook, newspaper editorials, TV, etc. My own...

Meeting Famous Writers

Our visiting writer at Columbia this semester is the wonderful British novelist Gerard Woodward, and as part of my coursework I’m doing a one-on-one manuscript consultation with him. I’ve been hearing great things about him for awhile now, and since I knew I’d be meeting him soon, I decided to read...

Writing About Writing

Can books about writing actually teach you anything about writing? This was a question that came up last week over drinks with my friend Eliza. There are so many how-to books out there about writing, but I personally feel that the best way to learn how to write is a) to...

Rejection

Every writer knows the feeling of rejection: the email with the subject line: “Re: Your submission to XXX Review..” I always brace myself before opening it, expecting the worst: sort of the way I get when I get an email that says: “XXX tagged you in a picture on Facebook,” when...

Avoiding The Workshop Story

In my advanced fiction class last semester, my professor warned us of a new phenomenon that has resulted from the explosion of MFA programs across the country: the “Workshop Story.” This is a piece that is solidly built, carefully constructed, and follows all of the guidelines of a quality story: fully...

The Drawbacks of Part-Time

Last week, when the snowstorm forced school closings for two days and I was allowed two whole days of freedom to write, I thought to myself, Ah! So this is what it could be like ALL THE TIME if I had chosen to go to grad school full-time instead of keeping...

Snowpocalypse: Perfect Writing Weather

A secret unbeknownst to school children is that teachers look forward to snow days just as much as their students do, and today in my department office, we watched with glee as the enormous whirling blob settled over weather maps in an area stretching from Oklahoma to the East Coast, with...

Hair Trigger

Columbia’s Story Workshop Method avoids direct critique and instead we are asked to look at what’s working in a piece. I’ve found this method to be hugely beneficial for both my own writing and my teaching of writing to my high school students—focus on the positives, and ask specific questions about...

Back to School

Well, this week is back to school at Columbia, although I don’t personally have class until Thursday. I’m definitely ready to go back, to catch up with people I haven’t seen over the break and to get more guided instruction time with my writing. This is kind of a transitional semester...

The Randomness of the Writer's Search Engine

In my last post, I weighed the benefits of writing longhand vs. on the computer. And while the internet can be very distracting when you’re trying to lose yourself in the story you’re creating, the fact is, questions come up as stories unfold. Strange, random, obscure questions. And if you’re writing...

Does Anyone Use a Notebook Anymore?

An informal poll: how many of you write longhand? I’m not talking about your jotting, your journaling, or your observation-making here, but about your actual drafting of a story. Conversely, how many, like me, write exclusively on a computer? The reason I ask is because a friend of mine advised me...

A Long Semester Break

I am about four weeks into our six-week semester break, and I have to admit that I wish I was going back sooner. Now granted, I will probably remind myself of this thought a month from now, on another bleak, gray, subzero day in a long line of previous gray subzero...

Huck Finn and Censorship

Recently, NewSouth Books announced it would be publishing a revised version of Mark Twain’s classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, replacing all 219 uses of “the n-word” with “slave,” as well as making other such euphemistic changes to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This story has been really interesting to...