Sunday, October 5, 2008


I’ve been working on a new draft (my fourth) of my thesis this week and I’m feeling extremely excited and hopeful about where it’s headed. I met with the fabulous Gerri Brightwell, my thesis advisor, a couple of times in the past few weeks to discuss where this book is headed and it’s amazing how, just from talking with her and getting some feedback, I was able to make some very important breakthroughs that I don’t know if I would have come to on my own. She didn’t tell me what to do, she’s not writing the thing for me, but she gave me her thoughts on the current draft which helped me to pinpoint some major structural and voice changes I’d like to make.

And as much as I’m grateful to Gerri for helping me figure this out, part of me feels a little nervous. Because I think these new changes are going to really bring the book together; these changes are essential and are helping to make the novel into a real novel and not just a rambling story that never gets where it’s trying to go. And I don’t know if I would have realized these changes needed to be made without Gerri.

Now, of course, this is why MFA programs are set up like this. This is why you have a thesis committee – to help you find your way through that first publishable book length work. But some part of me wonders, what will I do in the future? What will I do with that next book, for which I won’t have a thesis committee and the sheltered MFA environment to help me along the way?

I think part of what you learn in an MFA program is how to look at your work and give yourself the sort of objective feedback you might expect someone else to give. But part of what you learn, too, is that writing is not an altogether solitary thing. That no matter how good of a writer you may become, you will always need other people to read your drafts and give you thoughts for revision. And my understanding is that the industry has changed so that most editors and agents don’t give feedback, the way they used to for the old school writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

An important benefit of an MFA program is that you meet other writers, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to make some close connections with other people who you can exchange work with and give honest feedback to, and get feedback from. I’m as shy as the next guy, shyer than the next guy, actually, but I’m starting to think more and more that one of the main reasons for going through a program like this is to make friends and establish connections with other writers. Hey, we probably all have plenty in common, so why not?

I’ve been pushing myself recently to come out of my shell. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much I do genuinely like and want to establish real friendships with some of the other people in my program. I hope these friendships can last, because this may be one of the important deciding factors between who makes it as a writer and who doesn’t (and because, like I said, I genuinely like some of these people a lot). The successful writer is probably one who has a close circle of writer friends to share with and to grow with and to just make connections with.

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