Category Archives: Writing

Earth Doesn’t Make us Human, Our Stories Do

I’ve been reading Eudora’s Welty’s On Writing, and found these two interesting quotes in her essay discussing genre, which was written in 1956:

“Fantasy itself must touch ground with at least one toe, and ghost stories must have one foot, so to speak, in the grave.” (51)

“Only fantasy’s stepchild, poor science fiction, does not touch earth anywhere, and it is doubtful already if happenings entirely confined to outer space are ever going to move us, or even divert us for long.” (51)

Admittedly, 1956 was 10 years before Star Trek, and 21 years before Star Wars, but I think happenings entirely confined to outer space absolutely move us and divert us.  But that is because the stories we tell are what is ‘human,’ no matter who (the Na’vi, Avatar) or where (in a galaxy far, far away).  Therefore “fantasy’s stepchild, poor science fiction” is actually not poor at all, but captures my imagination, and the imagination of so many of us.

Thank you Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, and so many others, for proving wrong anyone who doubted the genre.

 

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He Who Can Does, He Who Cannot, Criticizes

Not exactly George Bernard Shaw’s quote, but close.

 

I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing for the third time.  If you wait long enough between readings, it’s like reading it again for the first time, (how could I have forgotten Eula-Beulah??).  It came up on the reading list for my first MFA class at SNHU, but I am happy to be reading it again from my own collection.  Any writer of any sorts needs to read and own a copy of this book.  SNHU obviously agrees.

I could write a long essay on the many topics a reading of it brings to mind, but maybe I’ll save that for my class.  In the mean time, the part of the book I’m reading today got me up out of my favorite reading place, (“So I read where I can, but I have a favorite place and probably you do, too—a place where the light is good and the vibe is usually strong.” 104), and over to my desk because I had to write, (yes, Steve, my desk is in a corner).

Specifically, I love direct narration and King speaks directly to us (the reader and wannabe writer) throughout.  He talks about elements of style including avoiding passive voice and adverbs which he believes originates from ‘timid’ writing.  I’ll admit, the thought of potential criticism is when I get a bit ‘timid.’  But King believes, “It is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.” (142)

The funny part for me is where King acknowledges, “Critics and scholars have always been suspicious of popular success,” (143), and that by writing this book On Writing to any and all writers out there, “I expect to be accused by some of promoting a brainless and happy Horatio Alger philosophy, defending my own less-than-spotless reputation while I’m at it, and of encouraging people who are ‘just not our sort, old chap’ to apply for membership at the country club.” (144)

Stephen King has never won the Pulitzer.  I guess his writing is far too popular.

Anyhow, as I’m reading along, King goes on to say, “What follows is everything I know about how to write good fiction. I’ll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don’t spend actually doing it.” (144)

And thus, I wanted to get up and write.

I’ve spent the last few weeks vacillating between thoughts of, “With hard work and dedication, I’ll have completed my Master’s in just 3.5 years,” and thoughts of, “What the f@*# do I think I’m doing?  There is so much to watch on Netflix.”

Either way, my first class starts in less than 3 weeks, and next up on my reading list is some Eudora Welty, who is most definitely a member of the country club.

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Honing My Craft

My first class starts in less than 6 weeks, and I got a chance to talk with my academic advisor for the first time yesterday.  She asked how I felt about the video intensive portions of my course.  I didn’t know there were video intensive portions.  Apparently, the MFA at SNHU includes a focus on successful marketing and publishing, which, nowadays, includes all forms of social media, therefore we will be recording ourselves and submitting assignments in video form.

Of course I have embraced social media, why do you think I have a blog? lol.

But blogs seems to be old school these days.  Even a Facebook page is old hat.  YouTube channels are important, but you really have to put up consistent content, as with anything, I suppose.  Instagram is an excellent platform for being able to put up quick visual content, multiple times a day, and amass ‘followers,’ but Instagram is one I haven’t really used much.  I’m a writer, not a photographer.

I transcribed part of one of my vlogs here, because I already have a private vlog.  After watching the show Grace and Frankie in the summer of 2016, when Frankie encouraged Grace to video record herself because it can be liberating and revealing to talk to yourself in that medium, I gave it a try.  98 recordings later, I believe I’ve warmed myself up for the video intensive portions of my course.

However, I still find myself wondering about the advisor’s immediate emphasis on the commercialization of my writing, before I’ve even done the writing.  I’ll admit, it gave me pause.  I am entering a MFA program to hone my craft.  In my MFA application personal statement, I wrote that “Stephen King approaches the heart of his 2000 book, On Writing, with two themes of which I agree.  First is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style), (142).  The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one, (142).”  I want to be become a good writer, so this is where my focus is at the moment.  I suppose selling myself on YouTube and creating an Instagram following will come later.

Writing an amazing novel, getting it published, having it hit the best seller list, and then have it sold to be made into a movie?  Sure, what writer doesn’t imagine those kinds of wonderful scenarios?  But first, let’s get writing, and writing well, before I start a YouTube Channel and start ‘instagramming’ myself sitting at my computer writing every day, posed with a pair of glasses on my nose to make myself look smarter (I don’t actual wear glasses…yet).

All complaining aside, I did like the fact that the SNHU MFA eventually branches off into two different focused areas, which in addition to the graduate degree provides either an Online Teaching of Writing certificate or the Professional Writing Certificate.  The Professional Writing Certificate includes courses like Knowledge and New Media, Social Media Marketing, and Search Engine Optimization.  Even though I’m definitely going to do the Online Teaching of Writing Certificate, I recognizing the importance of knowing about the other stuff too.

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I Got Accepted at SNHU!

I started writing this blog post Monday.  I was pre-deciding that yes, I absolutely got accepted to Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA in Creative Writing program, and this is what I would title my blog post.

But it’s actually only Monday, and its Memorial Day in the US, and my Graduate Admissions Counsellor not only has today off for their holiday, he’s not in tomorrow either.  So, although they finally got my last post-secondary school transcript last week, of the 3 I had to send to them, I’m actually still waiting to hear back about acceptance until at least Wednesday.

But today is now Thursday and I am so grateful the news is I’m in!!  SNHU is a good school that has fairly high standards to get accepted, so I am really relieved I got in.  Additionally, these online university programs are very competitive, lots of applicants, and not very many spaces.  They didn’t just accept that I received an honours degree from UBC, they needed to know every single grade I received all the way back to my first years in college, to ensure I met their requirements.  Although I did really well in my latter years in school, there were a few hits and misses in my first few years, including a C (that I totally forgot about) in Business Management, when I thought I for a little while that maybe I would go in for a business degree, instead of a Bachelor’s.  Yikes!  Thank goodness those few lower grades got averaged in with all the A’s I got in Creative Writing.

Huge sigh of relief.  My first class begins July 16.

In the mean time, after 3 and a half months of daily work, my manuscript has been self edited, and I have a completed first draft novel for my thesis.  I am starting another novel as well, because this 15 minutes of creative writing a day thing I got going is amazing, and I don’t want to stop.  But with having this first draft done, I can avoid some of the stress I had the last time I was in school, when I was working on my thesis in a last minute frenzy while also still completing my last French course.  I graduated two year ago, and I am really proud of the creative work a have done in my time between undergrad and grad school.  I am way ahead on my work for this graduate degree.

When I started this blog there were so many entries about how I wasn’t getting the writing done that I wanted to get done.  Now I am doing it.  Everyday.  15 minutes at a time.

Grad 2021.

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Plan B

Okay, what I really want to do is a MFA, dedicated to writing, workshops and achieving a manuscript-length project at the end of the program, so I’ve applied to another graduate program at another school.

And now I’m waiting to hear back about acceptance, again.

Waiting is no fun at all for me.  I think about it all day, wanting to picture my plans moving forward through the program, but I’m not accepted yet, so I force myself to stop those thoughts, so then I start obsessively checking my email instead, ug!  I wish I could just relax and let the chips fall as they may.  Before I applied to my top pick school, I told myself that if I didn’t get in, well, then, maybe that just wasn’t my path.  After I got the bad news in March and started to process the fact that I didn’t get in, I looked at MA programs instead, because as I had said, maybe MFA wasn’t my path.  But I keep coming back to it.  It feels right.  And this new school I applied to, their MFA is actually a 48 credit program (instead of UBC’s 36), because it includes an “Online Teaching of Writing Certificate” as well.  As my future goal is to work for a post-secondary institution teaching online, this program would give me even more skills to pursue that career, than just the MFA in Creative Writing would provide on its own.

Even though I graduated two years ago, I’ve continued to work on my writing.  In fact, I write more now (daily) than I was doing while in school, because while doing my BA, especially at the end with my thesis and French courses that took up so much of my time, I didn’t get to do what I really wanted to do, which was work on my personal writing projects.

Additionally, in the last year, I’ve started weekly workshops with a friend who is writing a memoir, and I have learned so much!  I am now comfortable with editing for dynamics, stronger sentences, tighter, leaner text, and fleshing out theme and meanings.  And I’ve been able to apply, (for the first time, really), those editing techniques to my own writing.  Admittedly, self editing has been something I’ve really struggled with in the past.  I would get so uncomfortable reading my own work that I couldn’t distance myself emotionally from the words and see objectively what could improve them.  Now, editing has become so comfortable because I’m doing it weekly with someone else’s writing, that for my own writing, I’ve been able to just switch from writing mode to editing mode without so much of my emotions blocking me from getting the work done.  And self editing is very important.  In fact, in evaluating my writing sample for my MFA application, which I completed around September, 2017, even though the deadline wasn’t until January, 2018, I can see that with my new self editing abilities, I am already producing far better first drafts.  Hopefully that will benefit me as I am having my writing evaluated by a new university admissions board as we speak.

Hopefully in the next week or so, I will know if I got into this new school.

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Personal Essay

Back in the fall of 2011, I wrote a blog post about how my writing had a Similar Theme stating:

“In truth, most of my blog entries have had a similar theme:  I need to get writing.  I haven’t written anything.  Why aren’t I writing anything!?!”

Now I’ve moved on to this:

“I write everyday, but it is the right kind of writing?  For example, am I wasting my time writing in this blog?  Do my blog posts talk about the same things over and over, so do I sound like a broken record?”

I realized why I like to blog is because blogging is really a form of personal essay writing, and, apparently, I cannot seem to get enough of it.  In addition to working on editing my novel and thinking about the new novel I’m going to write, I spend time journaling, vlogging, and blogging about what I want to do next.  I looked up the definition of personal essay and found this:

“Though factual, the personal essay, sometimes called a narrative essay, can feel like a short story, with ‘characters’ and a plot arc. A personal essay is a short work of nonfiction that is not academic (that is, not a dissertation or scholarly exploration of criticism, etc.).” -Short Prose Genres

It feels silly now, in hindsight, to be pointing out I’m my own character here. Of course I am, this is personal essay writing afterall.

I also found a great article here:

-What is a Personal Essay?

All of the concepts and ideas found under these links are germane to my personal struggle on the way forward with my education (MFA versus MA) for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the idea of a creative outlet versus scholarly exploration of criticism.

Primarily, the difference between MA and MFA is this:

“An MA is often focused on English literature and academics with the possibility, depending on the program, of a concentration in creative writing. The MFA, on the other hand, may require heavy reading, but it is dedicated to writing, workshops and achieving a manuscript-length project at the end of the program.” -What the F? (MA vs MFA)

After producing an undergraduate thesis for the English Honours Program for my BA, but having worked on writing, workshops, and a manuscript length project for my minor in Creative Writing with a bunch of BFA students, who decidedly did not want to do a “dissertation or scholarly exploration of criticism,” I had decided to pursue a MFA for my graduate degree and leave modern critical theory behind me.  I want to focus on my writing and creative growth.  Alas, on March 9 I received my rejection letter:

“Dear Respected Applicant,

We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a position in the UBC Creative Writing MFA Program, starting September 2018.  This year we received over 320 applications, many international. The caliber of the work was high, the rankings were very competitive, and faculty had to make some difficult decisions.”

This was a huge disappointment.  The website had warned me, “Approximately 20% of applicants are accepted each year,” but I still only applied to this one school.  So now my biggest challenge is finding an online program I can complete in the next three years, and with the competitiveness of MFA programs, I find myself now looking instead at MA programs.

“Although there are hundreds of MFA programs, the competition to get in has also been slowly rising. Landing your top choice might prove difficult.” -What the F? (MA vs MFA)

I’m now living proof of that landing my top (and only) choice has proven difficult.  My second choice may be to pursue an MA instead, but I would want to be able to focus on new media forms and the personal essay opportunities that affords.  I believe Virigina Woolf’s observation about “people who use this medium from genuine inspiration because it best embodies the soul of their thought.”  That’s how I feel exactly.

Something else to think about:

“One hundred and twelve years after Woolf, the death of the personal essay was pronounced once again, this time by Jia Tolentino in a widely read piece in The New Yorker…Tolentino accused the genre of trafficking in empty, sensational confession that lacked self-awareness or longevity.”

“In 1905, Virginia Woolf lamented its [that is Michel de Montaigne’s described personal essay’s] decline in The Decay of Essay-Writing.  ‘There are, of course, distinguished people who use this medium from genuine inspiration because it best embodies the soul of their thought,’ she wrote. ‘But, on the other hand, there is a very large number who make the fatal pause, and the mechanical act of writing is allowed to set the brain in motion which should only be accessible to a higher inspiration.’” -The Personal Essay Isn’t Dead

 

 

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Member of My Own Audience

When I was in grade twelve, I took English Literature.  This was my first class that went beyond the high school graduation required study of the English language.  This was the study of literature written in English.

Of course, grade twelve was a long time ago, but something about that class still sticks out in my memory.  It was where, for the first time, I pondered the notion of having an audience.  Specifically, although I cannot remember who it was, we studied the works of a literary diarist.  The modern online blog, such as this one, is certainly a diary.  So sure, in that case, it must then have a place in the study of literature written in English?  (A topic for another day).

When it comes to an online blog, even though the first tentative entries may declare that it is “hard to imagine anyone would want to read this,” eventually it becomes obvious people will read it, even if it is just your future self.  This actually makes it difficult for me to come to this space to write, at times, because as a member of my own audience, I can be my own worst critic.  I can get sucked into being overly concerned about my ‘audience,’ and what they (me) would think if I keep agonizing about the same things over and over again.  Haven’t I told people that if there is one rule when it comes to writing a novel, it would be that the main character should change over time, even if that character is me?  (Of course, that’s not really a rule, but it does help serve most stories, just saying).

My future self today in 2018, spent some time looking back at my entries in 2011. I see an outline of what writing I was working on back then, and what I was struggling with, and some of the exact same struggles apply today.  Rats, that breaks the rule about changing over time.  But where my character (me) has changed over time, is in how much I let those struggles derail my progress.  I produce more writing now than I did back then.  And when I look back over those early entries on my blog, I don’t give the negative voice nearly as much air time as I used to.

I used to have a very difficult time editing my own work.  A self depreciating negative voice would start to tell me in my mind uncomfortable statements that I had difficulty deciding if they could be the true or not.  If they were the truth, then why would I bother to edit what has no value?  Luckily, this voice is mostly silent when I am writing the original words, or I probably never would have been able to write anything in the first place.

It’s sort of embarrassing admitting, even to myself, the truth about how loud this negative voice has been at times.  I’ve been working with another writer on editing her work for the last six months.  I’ve gotten used to taking an objective position, and just doing the work necessary to make sure her work is free of obvious errors, asking questions, and suggesting the maneuver of a few words here and there to make sure the best of her intention shines through.  I allow myself to appreciate the source material strictly for what it is: creative product from a talented mind.  As this is a weekly habit now, I’ve been about to take the same approach (for the first time) to my own writing, even allowing the thoughts that I do indeed have talent to speak louder than the negative voice that says otherwise.  When it comes to talent, natural aptitude is where I started, and I’ve been working on skill ever since.  I am definitely improving over time and plan to continue.

Will I still agonize on my blog over my writing in the future?  Oh, probably.  In fact, this entry may be all about giving myself a license to do just that going forward.  Either way, this blog is a space to empty out the contents of what I’m working on today (editing), so that my future self can look back and remember.

 

 

 

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