Surviving a Graduate Writing Program

I won’t bore you with all of the details of my life, I’m a writer. Some would say a want-to-be writer but I’ve published short stories and some articles which according to some, makes it okay for me to say that I’m a writer. What are we when we’ve written stories, maybe reams of them or even a book, and we’re not published? There’s always someone out there asking if I’ve published a book. “No, not yet” has become my survivor’s creed. And who was it said that you had to publish anything in order to be a writer? I don’t hear musicians saying that if you don’t play in a symphony orchestra that you’re not a musician. If you play an instrument, you’re a musician. Why not let writers be writers?

Okay, so maybe my ranting is a little off track. The fact is that I have this book, an unpublished book. Now, I’m all for finding homes for all my little writing projects and this blog is just another way to find a home for an orphan manuscript. I haven’t looked at it in several years because, well, it just wasn’t time. I went to a graduate writing program, the part-time one at Johns Hopkins University a while back, graduated too. The first semester I was there I decided to keep a journal of my school experiences that could be used by other students and maybe help them figure out if it’s useful to apply to a graduate writing program.

In 2007, I submitted the first version of that book to Graywolf Press (that’s back when they had different eligibility requirements). I didn’t win their nonfiction prize, no surprise there since I’d had a few more “aha” moments since I submitted the manuscript and I’d realized that I would need a platform to launch a nonfiction book about writing, maybe published fiction books. Any writers club will tell you that you need some sort of name recognition, a platform, that will help a publisher sell your books. In the old days, pre-Hopkins, a friend of mine from Iowa City once told me, literary authors had to publish short stories to get a fiction book published. I believe that publishing a non-fiction book about writing is a step higher on that credentials ladder or at least deserves some extra research.

This nonfiction book of mine, Surviving a Graduate Writing Program, grew or I suppose a better word choice is “evolved” just as I was evolving as a writer. Not everyone that attended classes with me wrote every day. In fact, I think there were only a few, but it made a big difference in my writing. It’s a hard transition to make but I’ve always had that stubborn streak that mothers hate.

I’ve had a fair number of those transitions in my writing style and skills since then. Sometimes when I read something I’ve written maybe a year ago ago, I can see how it’s wrong or at least how it could be better. So, what the hay, why not revise the old book once again? Revision started as an agony, became a large part of writing for me, and is now something that I enjoy as much as that first broad stroke that starts a story. I’m sure this won’t be last the last revision of Surviving a Graduate Writing Program. Even though I now teach writing at a local college, my skills are still improving and I hope that never stops.

Tomorrow, we’ll start at the beginning and I hope that writers will comment on the book as we go along and tell me what they think of graduate writing programs. I read another post on someone else’s blog at about whether or not an artist can “learn” to be an artist, it’s not a new topic. That’s part of what this book is about too. Till tomorrow….Mary   


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
This entry was posted in Graduate Writing Programs, Johns Hopkins University, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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