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Week Two: Back to Basics

Image: Nilufer Gadgieva

When I applied to MFA programs, the last thing I expected to be doing was diagramming sentences. More than that, though, the absolute last thing I expected was to love it.

For my first semester of graduate school, I decided not to take any workshops. Currently, my class schedule consists of “Forms of Non-fiction: The Essay” with Neal Gabler, “Forms of Fiction: The Short Story” with SM, and “Introduction to Graduate Writing” with, essentially, the entire Creative Writing faculty.

“Forms of Non-fiction: The Essay” is on Mondays from 5:20pm to 8pm. There, we talk about what the essay is, how it operates, what its goal as a piece is. We discuss structure, motive, form, craft. The class is designed to not only make you think about what an essay is, but what nonfiction really is. Can you be honest while telling a lie? What is truth? How much do you let your reader know? What am I trying to say?

“Forms of Fiction: The Short Story” is Tuesdays from 5:20pm to 8:10pm. This is probably the most challenging class, particularly because I am the only first year student in the class. Everyone else is either a second or third year MFA student. Most of them know each other already, and are way more advanced than I am.

As I was sitting in that first class, watching old friends chat about their summer and plans for the first drafts of their manuscripts, I looked towards the door hoping to see another nervous and petrified face…but none came. After we did the standard “State your name, genre, fun fact”, our instructor showed us this interesting little video to serve as our writing prompt.

Nothing came to mind, so I decided to use it as a free write and wrote about how nervous and uncomfortable I was. My anxiety intensified when my instructor informed me that I had to read what I wrote aloud. Now, I should have expected this – after all, it’s a fucking MFA program – but I just wasn’t thinking.

I did my best to choke back the tears as I confessed my fears and insecurities to about thirteen strangers, and seriously thought about dropping the class on my way home that night. That is, until I started on the homework – sentence diagramming.

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I haven’t diagrammed sentences since grade school. When I opened the book to Unit 1, I found myself thinking, “What the fuck is a predicate nominative?” Too often, as writers, we forget there is a method to the madness. So, I find myself going back to the basics in this class, and I couldn’t be happier. In just two weeks of classes, I can feel myself thinking more and more carefully about sentence structure and word choice. And, after all, isn’t that what school is all about?

My last class of the week, “Intro. to Graduate Writing”, is on Wednesdays from 5:20pm to 8pm. In the beginning, this was the class I was looking forward to the least. I mean, I’d already been accepted into the program on my ability to write, why did I need to go to this class? However, it’s actually been one of my favorite classes because each week, a different faculty member teaches the course. It’s a great way to sample each instructor’s writing/teaching style, and figure out who you want to work with in the future. In addition, it’s nice to have all the first years in one place, since I don’t necessarily see everyone in my classes.

Graduate school is definitely not what I thought it would be. But, then again, life isn’t what I thought it would be either. All I know is that I can feel myself and my work changing. I’m thinking. I’m reading. I’m writing.

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