Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Which The Writer Gives Herself a Pep Talk

Photo credit.

I have been a very bad graduate student.

After our fall break trip to West Virginia, I dropped the MFA ball in a serious way. This week I had roughly 600 pages to read for two classes, a story to hand in for workshop, a response post to write for Blackboard, and a 2-4 page story written in the style of Austerlitz. Not the best time to procrastinate and yet I did exactly that, mostly by going to parties and to the bar and rewatching Parks and Rec on Netflix and then being too hungover to get anything productive done. In roughly three days, I managed to read all 600 pages and finish my workshop piece, but totally forgot to post to Blackboard and didn't remember the imitation exercise until twenty minutes before class. It was one of the worst things I've ever written and I wish I could un-hand it in. I don't have any classes tomorrow which is good, because I have five student pieces to critique and five revisions to grade for Thursday, not to mention it would be nice to have time to actually, you know, WRITE MY OWN WORK. In conclusion: for the last week I have sucked at grad school, and that is one week too long.

I know I've said this before, but I consider being in an MFA program a privilege. It took me two years, a lot of heartbreak, and a ton of work to get here. I gave up a lot of things to pursue this degree, included but not limited to a comfortable job and an amazing community of friends in Texas. None of that sacrifice will be worth it unless I make the most of the time I have been given. And really, three years is not that much time. I can't afford to waste it.

I feel like I've been focusing too much on the social aspect of the MFA experience. Don't get me wrong - it's important to be social and a writing community is a huge part of why I wanted to come to a program. But being a part of a community does not mean I have to RSVP to every event and go to the bar every night. Fun nights do not equal productive days, and the need to be productive is great than the need to be popular. I'm almost 30 years old - I do not need to be trying to keep up with people who are 5-7 years younger than me. Trust me when I say that it does not end well.

Here's my new plan: wake up every weekday morning and write, then run or go to yoga. Spend the rest of the day reading, grading, going to class, and getting things revised and ready for submission to literary journals. Friday and Saturday will be my going-out nights because I do enjoy bars and parties, just in moderation.

You see, it's easy to get caught up in the distractions. The new friends. The delicious beer. The weekend trips. But there needs to be a balance. I spent most of my 20's with friends, drinking and traveling and going to parties while working 40 hours a week and never having time to write and read. During those years, I daydreamed about when I would have the time, the space, the focus to write my novels and read my books. The time, quite clearly, is now.

New plan. New leaf. Grad school domination. I hope you're ready for this, because I finally am.


  1. First things first: I know the photo isn't yours, but wow, it's gorgeous!  Great find!

    Second: a beautifully written pep talk, my dear.  Have I told you lately how awesome your blog posts have been?  So eloquent, yet still YOU.  I think you have found your voice and it's really shining.

    Third: I think it seems really understandable that it's taking some time for you to find your focused balance in grad school.  This thing you're doing now, it's totally different from anything you've done before.  The focus, the expectations, the dreams--this is IT.  You've arrived at the next stage, and you are ready to commit in a big way.  So go for it!  Read, write, discuss, think, laugh, write some more.  You can do this.  And I'm cheering for you from way over here in Texas :-)


  2. You guys are seriously way too nice. Thanks for the vote on confidence. :)

  3. Academia (at least for me) has presented frequent struggles to find balance between the various aspects of its existence, and there is a certain ebb and flow to the academic term as well. It is easy to get caught up in distractions, but you will find your rhythm and the routines that work for you. Until the next term and then your schedule may have to change completely.   

  4. You give the best pep talks. Go you! :)

  5. Your pep talk motivated me, too. :)