All posts tagged: creative writing

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 …

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …

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 …

Becoming the Killjoy: Confronting Academic Spaces

Finishing up my final semester at University of Wyoming’s MFA felt tumultuous, though I suppose it couldn’t have ended any other way. Many faculty seemed to be leaving UW amidst the school’s large-scale budgeting overhaul due to the collapse of Wyoming’s coal industry last year, nothing new for the state considering its legacy of booms and busts. A new drama was rising afresh within the program as students learned of the manner in which beloved faculty member, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, had been terminated. Further, this was all happening against the backdrop of macro and micro struggles. Each week was some new round of messy political theatre, and meanwhile my friends and I were going through own crises, doing what we could to find moments together to fight through the gloom. After my thesis defense, one of my committee members gave me a letter that contained everything I needed to hear at the end of this stricken road. Even now, I’m holding the letter, reading through it again and finding myself wrecked with the sharp joy of …

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 …