Let us take a break from our discussion of blogging itself and return to the profiles, this time one of another creative writing graduate who was in an MFA program when interviewed. He wasn’t long out of our program, and could remember certain elements of his undergraduate courses that were of particular use to him. He also had a couple of specific suggestions for improvement.
The subject is in a Masters of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, having obtained his undergraduate degree in 2006. His samples are a short story and a novel chapter. When submitting stories to magazines, interested editors would ask “if you have a novel,” so he decided he needed to complete the novel he had begun. “That’s my number one goal at the moment.” Our opening discussion focused on his work being persuasive not just in terms of a convincing plot and characters but also, in the short story, regarding the contemporary issue of male unemployment. It was his attempt to stretch his subject matter beyond “college romance” and to, through story-telling, involve the reader in a “real world” conflict. “It’s my production, it’s my art and it reflects things that I believe and know, the world, so, kind of hard to avoid me pushing my beliefs about these.” At the same time, he believes he can more effectively push his point-of-view through the story itself, rather than “outright saying it.”
While the subject is obviously in search of a “public” for his writing, he doesn’t want to be trapped into genres like romance or science fiction or fantasy that attract a very specific but limited audience. “I believe, in my heart of hearts, that if you can tell a good story, whether it’s literary or science fiction or anything else, it will sell, but you have to give yourself a good story, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.” Regarding style, the subject felt he had absorbed much about the use of language in such courses as Composition and Rhetoric, and The History and Development of the English Language, but then it was only in the Shakespeare class taken his final semester that he realized “you can use those tools… to get them to do more things that you want.” When revising, he said he will seek to vary sentences and change verbs. “A simple sentence can be short and sweet and get some point across quickly. But if you’re trying to do an explanation for something that’s all-encompassing… people doing all different things at the same time … what I would do, I would attach clause after clause after clause, pull it all together and make it all one sentence, it’s all-encompassing, it gets that effect. I feel like it pulls the scene along much better that way.” This sounds very much like the accumulation of verb phrases, a technique I have taught for years in College Writing I.
His process will begin with a “writer’s journal” that contains “writing ideas, story ideas, basically just quick notes I’ve written.” Composition takes place on a computer using Microsoft Word, but he will print out drafts in order to revise and edit with a pen on the hard copy. The only other software mentioned was a thesaurus web-site. He consciously avoids thinking in terms of photographs and images. “I even avoid thinking about novel covers.” He also avoids having a set time each day to write because writers with that routine are “not like a hundred percent sure of what's going to happen next. Whereas I feel I want to ... I want to know what going to happen."
The subject’s influences from his undergraduate courses included an article read during the Traditional Grammar course that said it was “okay” to “break certain grammar rules, for the story … But you have to create a specific set of grammar rules for each individual story as well as its language.” Another lesson was the value of voracious reading for a creative writer, citing his interactions with a particular professor and a two-week workshop he had with Rick Moody. “And now, if you’d go home to my library, I have a ton of books that I have read, but much to my girlfriend’s dismay, I have 50 of them I’ve yet to read.” For curricular recommendations the subject would have liked to have more writing workshop courses and more writing samples, which would have helped him when applying to graduate programs. In his last semester he had “used up all my writing classes … I wasn’t doing any writing that last semester.”