This weekend has been one of the most productive I’ve had in quite some time. Thanks to the MFA Draft Fiction group on Facebook, I’ve been able to get some really useful critiques on my work, which has pushed me to get my submission piece in shape.
In some respects, it makes things difficult that I began my novel all the way back in 2012, because it means I’m too familiar with the piece and with the characters, and while I’ve altered huge chunks of it over the years – including losing about 15,000 words in 2014, damn it Outlook – much of the original content is still in there, and after four years, I’m pretty set in my ways when I look over it. Something I’ve always found difficult in writing is the insertion of dialogue. For some reason I just don’t enjoy writing it, and feel like it ruins the fluidity of description and inner monologues of characters. What I have come to realize though, particularly through the Draft group, is that readers want to see it, they want to learn who the character is, not just through a description but from the way they interact with others. In the same way, the first part of my novel revolves around two characters writing letters to each other, and for some reason, which seems slightly mad to me now that I’ve made the change, I didn’t think it pertinent to include even excerpts of these letters to show the relationship that was building. Idiot.
Regardless, I’ve made tons of edits this weekend to the first section of my novel, and have uploaded the second section to Draft for further comment. It’s really interesting to see other people’s perspectives, particularly people who don’t know me and don’t need to pander in any way, because it is usually the harsh criticisms that are most vital. I believe there is also a Poetry group on Draft for workshopping, as well as Fiction, so if you’re reading this and you need a kick-start, please do go join one of them, they’re genuinely helpful.
Since my last application post, I’ve slightly changed my university list, dumping Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Louisiana Baton Rouge, and adding the University Of Virginia. Unfortunately, both Illinois and Louisiana had a GRE requirement, and hailing from the UK this would have been an additional cost, looking at approximately $205/£159 to take the test. There were also costs for getting to London (my nearest test centre), the loss of missing a day of work to travel as Saturday testing was minimally available, and the fees for sending the scores out to universities. You’re able to send the scores to four schools on the day at no extra cost, meaning if you select any schools after the fact, or any more than four, there is an additional cost – starting at $27/£21 – which may not sound like a lot, but with application fees to pay for, and Christmas right around the corner, it’s sometimes better to cut your losses.
Regardless, I weighed it all up and decided to go with UOV – it’s a fully funded program with no teaching in the first year, and a light teaching load in the second – especially important when for most of us, the reason we’re itching to start an MFA is for the time and space away from a full-time working gig.
Back to this weekend! I’ve made numerous edits and I’m really happy with what’s shaping up to be my final submission. I’ve also now asked two out of my three picks to be my referees, and when I’ve gathered the courage to ask a wonderful former lecturer of mine if he’ll be my crowning glory, I’ll be putting together emails for each of them, with my manuscript, a rough draft of my Statement of Purpose, an example of a recommendation that I found on Purdue’s site, and copies of my general CV and writing résumé so they all know what I’ve been up to creatively and professionally for the past few years. Part of me feels genuinely guilty for asking for them all to put in such a lot of work for my benefit, but a grad friend has assured me that it’s part of the process and for lecturers it is part of the package they signed on for – the dreamer in me loves imagining a day that someone will want a recommendation from me.
Next week isn’t going to be a productive one, I lost my grandfather two weeks ago and it’s the funeral on Thursday. I’ve written a short poem for him, that my family have asked me to read at the cremation, which will be the first time I’ve ever read my work aloud (apart from at our family pub when I was about eight), so I’m pretty nervous but just hoping I can do him justice. Tonight is just tying up some loose ends, doing laundry, and making a study schedule for myself as deadlines draw ever closer. Those Statements of Purpose are looking like a pretty big obstacle to get over, but nothing is insurmountable.