Going Back to Graduate School

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I received my MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins University in 2007. Having some distance has given me some perspective as well as helped me understand that writing programs have a hard time meeting everyone’s needs in their workshops. What I appreciate most about my graduate program is what I learned about editing my work.

There’s no easy way to learn how to revise your work and after I finished school, I was pretty sick of workshops. During this past year I broke my own nonparticipation rule with three different groups. I started editing a young adult novel this year, my first in that genre, and I thought some feedback would be helpful. I had to quit one group because some writers insisted very strongly that I had to use all of their suggestions which is rubbish no matter who is commenting on your work. I’ve been participating with another children’s group online (SCBWI) but although they started out with a bang and some of the comments were very useful, they just kind of faded away as many groups do. 

The workshop at Sewanee was very different. I didn’t hesitate to accept most of  Margot Livesey’s comments and there were only a few that I didn’t want to take where her style wouldn’t have sounded right in my voice. If you’re lucky enough to receive comments from such a talented author, then you will at least know that the ideas are coming from someone who knows more than you do! I asked the class to specifically comment on the points of view I’d used and although I understood that I needed to adjust how they were presented, I didnt’ take any of their comments as is. I think that comments should make sense to you and if they don’t, then you should do what you think is best since that’s your decision and no one else’s at least until you submit a manuscript to an agent or an editor.

Besides the basics of grammar and sometimes factual inaccuracies, there is one situation where I believe everyone should revise based on comments during a workshop. If a couple or maybe a bunch of people pinpoint a particular paragraph or even a sentence (even if they suggest different edits) then I’m comfortable assuming that something needs to be changed in that paragraph. That said, here’s the next installment of my diary of what happened in graduate school, Surviving a Graduate Writing Program.

My Last Workshop

I had two more classes to finish before I did my thesis. Keeping a steady pace at school as well as working full time had been wearing me down and taking time away from my writing. I decided that I wanted to make one big push and finish my degree in the Spring of 2007.

In the Spring of 2006, one of the graduating students in my program had told me that I should ask someone to be my thesis advisor at least a year in advance to make sure I could find one. I decided to ask a fiction teacher in Baltimore that I’d never had for a class. The teacher who also taught in the MFA program was concerned that we didn’t know each other, so I’d agreed to sign up for his Fall workshop. Our director had given us the option of counting our workshop in Italy as one of our electives. The workshop with my future thesis advisor would then count as my last workshop in the program.

At the beginning of my program, I’d decided to take classes from different teachers so I could have a wide variety of experiences. I wondered if I should hve made more of an effort to take multiple classes from other teachers. I’d never had a class with several of the fiction teachers in Washington including my fiction advisor who taught most of his classes in D.C.  I did take an extra Saturday grammar seminar with him and knew that I would have liked to take his classes if our schedules had matched but it was too late to worry about my strategy now. We only needed nine courses for our degree. If I’d focused on taking more courses from different teachers, it would have taken me longer to finish since courses weren’t offered every semester.

At least I would have a chance to study with the other fiction teacher in Baltimore. I decided to try yet another approach for the beginning of my novel in progress as my first workshop submission. During the summer after my workshop in Italy, I’d developed a new opening for the book.

More tomorrow…..


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, Uncategorized, workshops. Bookmark the permalink.

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