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School’s Out For Summer: End of Year One

This semester has been a long one, but it has finally come to a close. Indeed, this semester really was longer because we spilled over the official end of the semester, only by a day, but we were all fatigued and ready for it to end. This was a snowier winter than some so we missed several days of class because of “snow days,” something I’d never experienced before as a Californian. But there you have it, at long last, we’re done.

With the end of this semester also comes the end of my first year of my MFA and I’m not quite sure yet how that makes me feel. Clearly I feel both a sense of accomplishment and relief, but also a bit empty or perhaps just unsure. Although I’m looking forward to the three-month summer break ahead, I am also finding myself slightly at odds as to what will happen this time next year when I will either be finished or at least nearly finished with my degree. What then?

I suppose what I partly wish is that I had an official plan for this summer. I mean, I have a plan and that is mostly to work and build up my savings a bit for the next year, but for my writing, I’m making it up as I go. I do feel that a break from classes is a good thing, but if I had a project to work on that had been endorsed by a professor, I might feel less concerned that I’ll slide back over the summer. If I’d had the foresight to put this in motion earlier, I would have done so, but I didn’t so here I am, on my own. Well, sort of. Okay, actually, not really.

What I do have is the friendship of several other writers who are also using their summer to work full-time on their writing. We’re planning to meet regularly and keep one another on track. For me, my specific plan is to go through all of the chapters I’ve already written that might one day go into a memoir and cut them back to the bare bones, to the core of each story being told, so that I can then weave them together again into a book length narrative.

In addition, I’ve committed to working through The Artist’s Way with my niece. The Artist’s Way, in short, is a twelve-week guided path to uncorking one’s blocked creativity. I’ve worked through this book before and I’ve found that, beyond the creative stuff, it is most useful because it keeps me on a schedule and will force me to write, even if only for the exercises. I think it will help me maintain structure between semesters rather than slipping into summer mode!

I’ve also joked with friends that we could use the summer to get fit and go to the gym twice a day to avoid the actual writing. We’ve hinted that we could all meet and discuss books on the treadmill – we’re all neighbors so that is actually possible – but probably that won’t happen either. Getting fit definitely is on the summer agenda, but I hope not as a distraction to writing.

Basically, making the most of my summer is my priority. Work is non-negotiable, but how to find just the right balance of income and keeping my momentum will be a challenge. I need the money, but I also want to maximize these two+ years of my MFA studies to make sure I’m giving myself full permission to engage in the process. I’ll have the rest of my life to work, so maybe it is better to trim a bit more on the budget and keep writing my primary job and my for-money work as much in the background as possible.

This past semester has taught me a lot. To be sure I’ve learned a great deal about the writing itself, particularly from my humor-writing teacher, Patty Marx, but also from the other classes, instructors and my cohort. Mostly, what I’ve learned, however, is that even within the construct of an MFA program, it is still all entirely up to me to stay on track for my own writing projects and goals. No amount of homework assignments or writing prompts will finish my book.

I guess I’ve come to think of my own writing – and the project that will indeed become my thesis – as an additional class that I need to design myself. I have to be the professor and student and make sure that I keep up with the work, reading, writing and revision. Nobody can help me there.

Am I still glad I’m doing this MFA? Absolutely!
Do I feel it is worth the investment of time and money? Double Absolutely!
Would I do it again? You bet.
Is it going to ensure my book gets written? Not a chance.

But that, in and of itself, is a lesson worth learning. Not only do I now realize how important it is that I am honest with myself as I travel the solitary path of writing, it is key that I have now embraced that fact not just that I am on my own, but that I can do it on my own. That is gold.

Joining this community of writers and students has given me the gift of focusing my life full-time on the craft of writing and I’m definitely making great strides in my skills and comprehension. But the writing is still on me and that is exactly where it should be.

Congratulations to everyone who is finishing up their first year of grad school (we made it!) and congratulations to all who have been accepted to start a program in the fall. Enjoy your summer! Replenish the well of your creative juices by listening to music, visiting museums, walking in nature, reading for fun. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! See you in the fall!

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