Author: J.R. Dawson

Concerning Your Creative Thesis …

Note: This blog entry talks primarily about a creative thesis. Dear MFA Student, Congratulations on getting in/your impending graduation! It’s been a long application process/one to three years of study. No matter where you are on your magical journey of poverty and eye exhaustion from reading assignments, I am going to tell you all about the thesis. Yes, the thesis. The last hurdle in obtaining your magical nugget of a degree. For new students, the thesis is a mystical dragon living far away in a misty mountain they’ve only heard about in stories. For near-to graduating students, that dragon has arrived, is now burning down Lake-town, and you are not the one with the magical dragon-killing arrow. You’re feeling more like the fat guy who gets the dead monster corpse dropped on him. So first: Don’t panic. In its heart of hearts, the dragon that is your thesis is actually your beautiful baby in disguise. It’s just got an evil spell of guidelines and deadlines cast upon it. The thesis, if you are doing a …

Attending ICFA Three Months Before Graduation

  This weekend, I attended ICFA for the first time. So I suffer from Impostor Syndrome, and I swore all of my interactions were going to go like this: But actually, because everyone is so cool and we writers are all nerdy masochists who love our art, it ended up like this:   I got to present on a panel about Alternate History in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and it went really well. I got to talk about my thesis and talk about other people’s projects. We went to a bunch of presentations and listened to cool papers and hung out by the pool, and the best BBQ comes three hours late after long talks about injustice and mini-lessons on ASL. I got to get some great advice from some great mentors, listen to people’s new projects, and grab all of the books I could possible fit into my suitcase. Everyone is trying to figure it out, trying to fight for what they believe in, trying to reach out and share ideas and grow as …

Advice from the Final Semester

  “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known …”  – Lin-Manuel Miranda I have one more semester before I am released into the wild again. So for those of you who haven’t started your program yet, this is for you. When I started, I thought I wasn’t good. I was not as good as I am now, and I wasn’t as good as I will be in the future. But I was better than I had been, and I was making an investment in my future as an artist. Just by admitting that I needed an MFA program, and having the courage to fill in an application, I was leaps ahead of where I could have been. It is okay to not know everything, to feel like you’re a sham. The job of an admissions council is not to pick the people who are the best, but those who are going to be the best. You are going to be overwhelmed. You are going to worry a lot. You are going to feel …

The Best and Worst Things About Being an MFA Student in 2015

It’s the end of the year, and that means time for lists! By this time next year, I will have graduated my MFA program. By this time six months from now, I will have just graduated. This time last year, I’d only been in the program for six months. So this means that 2015 was my only year of completely being in this graduate program. Time to reflect! BEST THINGS: 1. I LEARNED HOW TO WRITE! I know, what? In a writing program? It seems obvious, but until you’re in the thick of it, you don’t realize just how much you’re changing and adapting and learning until you look at a manuscript you wrote before entering the program, and you give out an “ohhhhh fuuuuuuudge.” All of the reading and writing and analyzing and work-shopping forces you to grow and evolve as a person in the field. 2. I MET REALLY COOL PEOPLE. My professors and my fellow students are some of the coolest, most open-hearted people I’ve worked with. Sometimes I read things that …

What is a Low-Residency MFA?

Image: Siebuhr This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about since I was given the chance to contribute to this blog. Most of the narratives you hear about an MFA are narratives stemmed in full residency programs. When I was applying for schools, there were some negative comments that were spouted out about low-residencies, and I almost missed out on a great opportunity because of a culture bias I internalized. Before we begin, I want to say a couple of things. First, I am not in every low-res MFA program. I am in one. Stonecoast is my understanding of how things work. Second, I have never been in a full-res MFA program, so I cannot do a directly personal comparison of the two experiences. With that in mind, what is a low-res MFA? Residency 20 days a year. Home the other 345.  I didn’t move to another part of the country to go to my residency. I live at home in Omaha, and I commute to Maine every six months for my residency. In …

A Summer of Writing in Europe: My Ireland Residency

The coolest thing about Stonecoast is the Ireland residency. Instead of going to Maine for one semester, you can head on over to Dingle or Dublin to write with the amazing Ted and Annie Deppe, along with their great friends like Angela Patten and Kevin Barry. Kevin Barry. I’d never been out of the US, and I’d spent the last five years sitting in a classroom, so the idea of getting on a red-eye to Shannon and disappearing into the European woodwork for a month was about the greatest thing that could happen to me. The following are journal excerpts from that adventure, taken from my blog where I am currently doing The Year of Writing Challenge. PROLOGUE: JUNE 30th. OMAHA. In the fall of 1978, two young twenty-year-olds each packed a backpack, got on a plane, and moved to London. They’d never been out of the country before. Honestly, they’d not been out of Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois before. She’d grown up on a farm forty minutes from the highway, waking up at six …

I Quit my Job Yesterday

This post has caused a lot of anxiety on my part, because it’s very personal. I’m an MFA candidate. I also worked full-time at a job that was in no way writing-related and expected me to work ten hours a day with a vigorous passion for others. This last month, I made a decision to leave that job in order to completely focus on my studies. My job involves other people, including about a hundred children who depend on me being there at my job. There is a lot of guilt that has come with leaving them. They don’t understand why I need to do what I need to do, and on some days, I doubt myself in my selfishness. But this is the way things have to be right now. When I got into my low-res program, I thought I could balance both. It became apparent on both sides pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to happen. Both needed me. My program needed me. My job needed me. And they were each getting half …