Author: Rachel Heng

On Grief, Publishing Your First Novel and Turning 30

I turn 30 this weekend! (I’m hoping the exclamation mark makes it less of a terrifying new phase of life) When I started the MFA Years I thought I’d blog a lot more; after years of writing fiction around the day job, I was finally headed to grad school and the full time writing life. I would have so much time! And so many things to say about the publication journey! If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that that hasn’t, um, been quite the case. Turns out there’s a strange law of productivity that dictates the more time you have, the less productive you are. Back in 2016, I was still working in finance, writing fiction in the wee hours of the morning, editing at night, planning a wedding, applying to 13 graduate programs and somehow managing to stay on top of life admin (tax returns, remortgaging our flat, organising family visits etc). Today, a mere email asking me for a single scanned document can send my day into a downward procrastination spiral (I will spare …

The Interdisciplinary Thing

Image: Whitney H Hello! Apologies for the long break since my last post — my laptop did that fun thing where it wouldn’t turn on and I had to send it off to Apple for a couple of weeks, and then the next couple of weeks were spent catching up on all the homework and writing I’d failed to do while laptop-less. I’m now a semester and a half into my MFA, and one of the things I’m finding incredibly (and surprisingly, in my specific case) rewarding about being at Michener is the interdisciplinary focus. Our program requires everyone to declare a primary and secondary genre, but on top of that, we also take a multi-discipline first year seminar together with our entire cohort of fiction writers, poets, playwrights and screenwriters, and we’re allowed to take classes in disciplines that are neither our primary nor secondary genre. I hadn’t thought much about this when I applied to Michener. I know for some people this is a big draw, because they already write some combination of …

Filling The Tank

Image: David Wright Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this Joss Whedon quote: “The last piece of advice on that level is fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks. Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone. It’s all fodder but if you only take from one thing then it’ll show.” He’s talking about movies, but when I read this a couple of years ago it really resonated with me in terms of my writing practice. Back then I was in a pretty intense corporate job that involved lots of late nights, weekend work and business travel, so what I thought ‘filling the tank’ meant was making the time for creative consumption: reading books, watching movies, going to plays. It was about taking myself out of the spreadsheets and presentations that dominated my days and feeding my creative mind. Back then, all I wanted was more time to do this. 3 months into my MFA program, I have all the time I could …

On applying

Photo: Bryan Jones I was going to write a post about my first month at Michener, but since I’ve been getting a bunch of application-related questions from people on Draft, I thought it might be helpful to do an ‘applying to MFAs’ post. A version of this post appeared previously on my own blog, so feel free to ignore it if you’ve seen it before. If not, I hope it’s helpful for you as you put your applications together! There are a wealth of resources on Creative Writing MFAs online, plus if you’re reading The MFA Years, I’m guessing you’re already well aware of the basics (e.g. don’t go into debt for an MFA, admission rates to top programs are <1% so apply to 10-13 schools if you can, it’s all about the writing sample, start early, etc). So I’ll focus more on my own thought process and subjective experience. Major caveat that anyone reading this should take it as just another datapoint. I’m not purporting to preach the truth / tell you whether you …

Rachel Heng Introduction (Michener Center for Writers ’20)

Image: Nick Page In two days I will fly to Austin to start my MFA, but for now I find myself in the living room of my flat in London, surrounded by very large piles of clothes. Turns out shipping things across the Atlantic is eye-wateringly expensive (duh, what did I think), so I’ve spent the last few days trying to give away/donate/throw out most of my belongings. I am an unapologetic hoarder. I own movie stubs from 2008 and cut-off shorts from 2003 (that I have last worn when I was literally 14. 14.) and pebbles plucked off a beach in 1999. My husband’s wedding vows contained the line, “In the past 8 years, I have watched you collect about 1 million items.” All my other international moves had been for work and therefore paid for, so I’ve never had to throw anything out before. Every last half-used notebook, every last ticket stub came with me, from Singapore to New York, New York back to Singapore, Singapore to London. But now, for the first …