Sunday, September 18, 2011

Me and the MFA - Part 4

I have a confession - I love writing essays. Who knew? Not me. Up until four months ago, I hadn't written an essay for 18 years, and then I had to write two for my application to Hamline. I had no idea whether what I wrote was OK - I just focused on what they asked for and had a go. I figured the essays couldn't have been too awful because they let me in!

While I was at the July residency, we had a session on essay writing. What is this MLA thing, I wondered? When I did my BA at Deakin, I studied a whole range of subjects, mostly literature and writing where I could find it, but also Philosophy and Australian History 1 (and although at the time I only found the history of Melbourne vaguely interesting, it came in handy when I started researching for the Our Australian Girl books). I still remember in Philosophy being told, "We don't care what you think. Do not use "I" in your essays." So to hear that your opinion was valued in an essay, as long as you based it on what you had discovered in your reading, was both exciting and scary.

MLA also requires a different kind of referencing. The last time I wrote an essay, we used Harvard and it was all books and articles. Now, of course, we have the internet and data bases of stuff, so it can get tricky. I tend to do bibliographies with a magnifying glass to get the punctuation and numbers right!

But mostly what I am enjoying is the reading. Literary theory seems so much more accessible when you read it with your own novel writing in mind. Suddenly it's no longer abstract - it has a meaning and a context. I like being able to write essays about topics that will teach me something, and that will make my own writing better (I hope!). At the moment I'm reading about voice and point of view in historical fiction, and also reading some novels to see how other writers do it.

It's like taking the whole "reading as a writer" to a different level. It's focused, and I write down gold nuggets of ideas, theory, practical application and inspiration every time I find one. What is also exciting for me is that the information and theory is actually giving me more ideas for my novel. At times, almost too many! I guess judging their worth and keeping or tossing these new ideas is going to be a big part of my writing for the next few months.

As for the "residency glow", no, it hasn't faded. I was worried that it would. That after a month or two, I'd forget all the inspiration and advice, the feeling of growth and purpose that I had while at Hamline in July, and perhaps lose interest. Instead, every time I sit down to study or write, it comes back and keeps me working and thinking. I especially enjoy finding things I can share with my classes. Last week I read half a page about voice from Janet Burroway's Imaginative Writing to my poetry class - it fitted perfectly with what we were discussing that week. Now if the other Burroway book would just arrive in the mail, I'd be set for my mid-semester reading!


Dee White said...


Thanks for sharing your journey.

You sound so inspired. Lately I've decided that the writing life is all part of the apprenticeship and that no matter what we read or write, learn or experience, it's filling in the pieces of who we are as both a person and a writer.

Your MFA sounds like it's changing your life.

Looking forward to reading more.

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