Author: Molly Montgomery

On the Cusp of a Creative Life

Image: Molly Montgomery Two weeks ago, I wrapped up my M.A. program in Creative Writing at UC Davis. I had already turned in and defended my thesis— a collection of ten short stories about California, my family history, fairies, wildfires, and ghosts, among other things— and all I had left was to finish up papers for a pedagogy class and a workshop on poet’s prose. I’m not ready to say goodbye to days of indulging in long bursts of writing and reading, and at least for the summer I can still pretend I’m working on writing for my program. But I’m at a crucial turning point in which I need to figure out how to carry my writing practices from grad school into the dreaded “real world.” Luckily, I feel like my MA program prepared me for this moment because if I learned anything in grad school, it was how to be self-sufficient as a writer. Now that I am reflecting on how my program has shaped my writing and allowed me to grow, I …

Why We Need Diverse Syllabi

Image: John Nakamura Remy In the second year of my M.A. program, I’ve had the opportunity to teach my own introductory fiction course to undergraduate students. Creative Writing courses tend to draw a diverse group of students, especially because my intro course fulfills a general education requirement. I have students from all different disciplines, not just English— biology, engineering, poli-sci, agriculture, you name it. My students also range from freshman to so-called “super seniors.” Moreover, the UC Davis student population is racially diverse (only 26% of the freshman class of 2016 was white), and my classroom reflects the wider demographics of the school. With that in mind, I’ve needed to craft a syllabus that will both fit my students’ needs and fulfill my learning objectives. To do this, I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on readings by writers of color and women on my syllabus. In my course, my students read Junot Diaz’s story “How to Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” to discuss 2nd person point of view. They …

Strategizing for Second Year

Image: Shemsu.Hor The countdown has begun. After a summer of traveling in Europe, teaching ESL classes, seeing the utterly inspirational musical Hamilton, and generally avoiding writing despite my desire to get ahead, I’ve started my fall classes and I finally have the motivation to do what I came to grad school for: write. I’m in my second and final year of my MA in creative writing at UC Davis, which means between now and May I need to write a thesis. I’ve decided to make my thesis a collection of short stories. Compartmentalizing my thesis into smaller, doable tasks— writing one story at a time— will do wonders for my mental health. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree. It was an academic paper that ended up being 90 pages long and not very good, even though I worked on it for a whole year straight. My entire senior year I felt this looming sense of dread hovering over me, like …

Finding My Discomfort Zone

Image: Trung Bui Viet In my first class on creative nonfiction this past April, I sat down in the workshop, excited, a little nervous, but fundamentally reassured by one thought: I wasn’t going to be any good at the class anyway, so I didn’t have to worry too much about mastering the finer points of the memoir or essay. I was taking nonfiction because in my MA program, we are required to take one class outside of our genre. Since I’m a fiction writer, that meant choosing between poetry and nonfiction.  When I was in undergrad, I took one fateful poetry workshop. It was actually my first workshop experience. I wasn’t much of a poet, or at least I didn’t consider myself to be one, but it was easier to get accepted into a poetry workshop than a fiction workshop, so I took the chance to be in it when it was offered, knowing that I wasn’t going to be the star of the class. I brought in my painful clichéd breakup poems every week and …

Want to learn how to write? Become an autodidact

Image: The Dark Veil If you’re familiar with the pros and cons of MFA programs in general, you’ve probably heard this advice before: an advanced degree in Creative Writing is not necessary for you to become a writer, but it can definitely help by giving you the time and validation you need to build confidence in your writing. I’ve now completed two terms of my M.A. in Creative Writing program (two quarters actually, but because there’s no summer term there are only three quarters in one school year– I’m guessing whoever invented that system didn’t major in math), and I have enough experience at this program to confirm that advice, but also to qualify it. In an MFA or MA Program, you will be treated seriously as a writer, and you will have more time than you otherwise would to write, especially if you’re coming back to school from the working world. However, if you are in a program that funds you via teaching assistantships or other university positions, you’re also going to have a …

How to make your MFA decision

Image: Vimal Kumar Maybe you’re still waiting to hear back from MFA programs or you already know you’ve been accepted to one or more. Either way, come April, if you are in the lucky position of being able to choose where you attend graduate school next fall, here are suggestions from some of our first year contributors on how to choose the program that is right for you. Contributors: Molly Montgomery, Craig Knox, Devin Koch, Jess Silfa, and Carlos Chism What is the most important factor to consider when making the decision? Molly Montgomery: I think the biggest factor when you’re making your decision is your personal goals. Of the programs you were accepted to you, which do you think will help you reach your goals as a writer? And if you have other aspirations, such as a desire to improve your teaching skills or to gain professional or editorial experience, will the program also help you achieve those goals? When you are comparing offers, it’s easy to only look at the funding, but you also …

Read, Write, Ruminate, Repeat

Image: Lynn Friedman In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, whenever Alice stumbles upon a bottle labeled “Drink Me” or “Eat Me,” she ingests them with the naïveté of a child who consumes everything in her path, unaware of how they may change her in ways she doesn’t expect. I was much like Alice as a child, only instead of consuming strange substances, I devoured books. Books had a magnetic pull for me, as if each cover said “Read Me” and I couldn’t resist. That’s why I started writing, after all: I wanted to recreate that sensation of irresistibility in the stories I made up to keep myself entertained. So it seems fitting then, in graduate school, to come full circle and reread books that I treasured as a child. This quarter I’m a TA for a class called Children’s Literature, and while I don’t have any teaching responsibilities for the course (instead I have grading and administrative duties), I still am reading all of the books for the course and attending the lectures. …