Four Writers (and One Painter) Resolve: New Year’s Resolutions

Champs Resolution 2019

What good is a New Year’s Day without a juicy resolution or two? I mean, even if we let our resolutions fall by the wayside on January 30th or 3rd, we’ve at least thrown a pebble into the pond and cause a mind ripple to form, expand, grow. There’s always the chance that the seed we plant today—even if left in the dark ground—will germinate, receive rain, eventually surface to sunlight, and bloom into beautiful being.

That’s how ideas often work for writers. Sometimes our ideas are a lightning strike, and we rush to the keyboard and pound out an entire chapter. Other times, one perfect sentence comes to mind, and we jot it in a journal, and every week or so, another joins it, and one day it’s a poignant story. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that tings in the air like the toast of crystal goblets, and we scribble on a napkin, to find it later and craft a poem that resonates and, yes, ripples, from our heart into the hearts of others.

Have I convinced you to make a writing resolution? I hope so! Nothing ventured . . . right!

A few weeks back, I was thinking of resolutions and wondering if writers other than myself toyed with them, made them, avoided them, broke them. I asked around, and a few friends shared their own writing resolutions with us. (Thank you for playing along!)

I hope you’ll find one—or more—of their resolutions inspiring.

Writer David Davis subscribes to the seed germination philosophy of writing. He wrote as a youngster but let writing fall by the wayside. It didn’t matter: The desire to write had taken root, and it later grew into a gig as a feature writer for the Daytona Sun Times. After the magazine went out of publication, David stopped writing. It was a job, after all.

Or was it? After seeing a Facebook post about (imagine this!) writing resolutions, David felt a powerful tug, and he dug out some old story snippets written years earlier about his grandchildren. He picked up his pen, and he’s resolved to write those stories. See? Even broken resolutions have a way of reaching sunlight!

Author, poet, essayist, blogger (need I go on?) Tovli Simiryan adopted a more Pomodoro-esque resolution, using a Fit-Bit app to jolt her into submission—both figuratively and literally. “From the once cluttered and disorganized mental office of Tovli Simiryan,” here’s her step-by-step resolution to put more of her gorgeous words into the world.

Katie Piccirillo Sherman, a journalist and journalism instructor in Chicago, believes in success through failure, as evidenced by her resolution to rack up one-hundred rejections. “The more you’re getting no’s, the more you’re submitting.” Don’t you love her positive spin and sassy attitude? Cheers to your one-hundred, Katie, and to an equal number of acceptances!

My own resolution? Ahhh, I almost hate to share it, because I expect I will no doubt one day have to admit its failure.

I resolve to Write. Every. Day.

Yup, even though I’ve been writing for over a decade now, I’ve never written every day, not even during my deadline-crazy Converse MFA years. (Don’t tell my profs!) No, I’ve always taken solace in my former mentor Robert Olmstead’s words to our small workshop group that, “Sometimes serious writing is sitting quietly, staring out a window for an hour.” Indeed.

This morning, as I thought of the writing resolution I wanted to make—because I certainly intended to make one (or two—I’m also resolving to network locally with more writers: We all need a nearby tribe), I came across poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s Twitter post, an article shared from The Rumpus, written by author and artist Kelcey Parker Ervick who resolved to paint every day. A painting—every day. Ervick asks, “What happens when you commit to painting—or to any form of creating—every day for a year?

“You exist in the world differently.”

Wow. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if that isn’t inspiring, what is?

Yes, I want to exist in the world differently. So, this year, I’m going to attempt the actual, hands-on, practical (though perhaps impractical is the better word) task, and write every day. Whether it’s a blog entry (checkmark today!), a chapter, a poem, or just one fine sentence that sings, I’m going to do it.

C’mon, writer. What’s your resolution?

Thinking about an MFA in Creative Writing? START HERE!

Converse

It’s no secret that graduates (like myself) of Converse College’s Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program like to brag about our experience in the program. Truly, it’s nothing short of life-changing.

What makes the Converse MFA program so special? It’s the award-winning, bestselling core faculty. It’s the I-can’t-believe-it’s-her/him visiting authors. It’s the one-on-one time with faculty mentors during the semester, and the ongoing relationships you have with them long after graduation. It’s the priceless opportunities to share your work with agents and editors and receive immediate feedback (and in some cases, a contract). It’s the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and drinks you’ll share with faculty and classmates who quickly become your forever friends. It’s the chill bumps that race across your skin when you finally get that line just right. It’s knowing that, even after you’ve turned in your final thesis, celebrated your graduation, and hung that beautiful diploma on your wall, you still have a community of writers to turn to for advice, for inspiration, for celebration.

Sound like the perfect place for you? Then check it out in person. Below you’ll find an article about The Converse College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing OPEN HOUSE. Trust me when I tell you it’s worth the trip to meet faculty, students, and alums who can answer your questions and show you just how incredibly special this program really is.

S.C.’s Only Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing to Hold Open House May 31

Spartanburg, S.C. — Discover why Publishers Weekly named the Converse College Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing “a program to watch” in 2015. Join us at our Open House information session on May 31, 2015 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Barnet Room of the Montgomery Student Center on the Converse campus.

Meet current students, published alumni, and faculty, including Robert Olmstead, Denise Duhamel, Marlin Barton, Leslie Pietrzyk, Susan Tekulve, Albert Goldbarth, C. Michael Curtis, Suzanne Cleary, and program director Rick Mulkey. Learn about the program’s new concentrations in Young Adult Fiction and Environmental Writing, plus scholarship and Teaching Assistantship opportunities, along with information on recent alumni successes in fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Then stay to mingle with current students who are on campus for their summer residency, enjoying live music with Nashville-based folk rock band The Hart Strings beginning at 8 p.m.

More information on the Converse College Low-Residency MFA is available at www.converse.edu/mfa.

About the Converse College Low-Residency MFA

As South Carolina’s only low residency MFA program in creative writing, the Converse College MFA offers students opportunities to focus in fiction, Y.A. fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and Environmental writing, plus opportunities to pursue internships in publishing and editing through our C. Michael Curtis Publishing Fellowship at Hub City Press. MFA students may also participate in editing opportunities with the program’s national online literary magazine, South 85 Journal, and pursue teaching opportunities with our Teaching Assistant program, a unique opportunity for low residency students.

“One of the strengths of a low-residency format is how it introduces students to the real writing life,” said program director Rick Mulkey. “Most writers have family and career obligations in addition to their writing. While students spend part of each academic year on the Converse campus during the residencies, they continue work on their writing and academic projects during the rest of the year without disruption from their family and career.  Plus they study in a true mentor/apprentice relationship with a gifted writer. It provides both an intensive learning environment and the flexibility that most of us need.”

Converse MFA faculty members include National Book Critic Circle Award winners, best-selling novelists, award winning short fiction writers and essayists, plus some of the top editors in the country. “In addition to being outstanding writers, our faculty are energetic and dedicated teachers who have been honored for their classroom instruction,” said Mulkey. “In some graduate programs, a student enrolls to discover that the writer she planned to work with only teaches one course a year, or is on leave while the student is in the program. Here you have the opportunity to work with a large number of writers, editors and agents in a very personal mentoring relationship.”

In the last few years, Converse MFA graduates and current students have distinguished themselves with honors and awards including the AWP Intro Award, a Melbourne Independent Film Festival Award, and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Prize, among many others. In addition, they have published work in a range of literary venues from Colorado ReviewShenandoahPloughshares, and Southern Review to such noted publishers as William Morrow/Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Negative Capability Press, Finishing Line Press, and others.

How to Select and Apply to an MFA Program

The first condition of education is being able to put someone to wholesome and meaningful work. –John Ruskin

 

You’ve reached the point in your writing career where you’ve become quite serious about it. You can think of little else besides reading or writing. You yearn for the day when someone creates showers with built-in, waterproof laptops, because you always seem to have a shampoo-lathered head when the ultimate phrase arrives. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) You’ve heard the phrase “my MFA program” repeated among people you admire so often that it cycles through your head like a Bee Gees earworm. Could it be that it’s time to seriously consider applying to an MFA program?

It’s not necessary to hold a post-graduate degree in order to become a successful, full-time writer; however, immersing yourself into a community of writers for two to three years has great benefits. In addition to showing publishers you are serious about your craft, you’ll network with successful authors, develop a cohort of like-minded writers who will support you through years to come, plus build a firm foundation from which to teach, lead workshops and conferences, promote yourself and your work, and—best of all—write with passion.

Now, how do you journey from the decision to apply to arrive at the acceptance letter? Here’s what I recommend:

  • Begin today. Researching to discover the right program for you cannot begin too soon. While still an undergrad, I began compiling lists of post-graduate writing programs, and I kept a notebook with information of what I learned about each. Some schools I could quickly cross off my personal wish list, because they required a semester abroad, were exorbitantly priced, or focused more on literary theory than creative writing (things that didn’t interest me). Others required classroom participation four days a week, which was out of the question for a working mother like me. Of course, these things may be the factors you’re seeking, so make sure the programs to which you apply fit your needs. Cost is often a concern for many, so if you are counting on student loans, scholarships, or financial aid, know that you’ll need to complete a Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form well in advance. In addition to tuition, don’t forget to factor in travel expenses to/from the program’s location, lodging, food, and textbooks. You will want to research the core faculty of each of the programs where you plan to apply, as well. Aim to read (or at least skim) one book or novel written by each of the full-time faculty members in the program.

 While I’ll quickly admit that I spent over three years doing intermittent research, I’ve since discovered an incredible source of much of this information. Lori A. May’s The Low-Residency MFA Handbook asks and answers many of the questions I had about low-res writing programs, both in the US and abroad. This text addresses the program, teaching philosophy, residency, study format and—especially encouraging—life after the MFA.  Ms. May has done much of the hard work for you, but you’ll still need to handle the application process on your own. Not seeking a low-residency program? Check out Tom Kealey’s The Creative Writing MFA Handbook for great information on traditional-study programs.

  •  Contact the programs. Chat via email or telephone with a faculty member, program director or advisor, a current student, or alumnus of the program. Jot down a list of school-specific questions, concerns about funding, or questions about the residency. The best programs will be happy to talk with you, and many will refer you to alumni or current students for candid conversations with those who have experienced the program first-hand. Face the fact that, if they won’t talk to you now, they won’t be available to help you later, either. Also, consider a site visit. Many programs will allow you to sit in on a lecture, and a few will assign a student tour guide to give the lay of the land. My alma mater, The Converse Low-Residency MFA Program, holds an on-campus information session, where you can meet face-to-face with the program director, some faculty members, current students, and alums. The next information session will be held on Thursday, January 29 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. on the Converse campus in Spartanburg, SC.  If you can’t attend, you can participate through Google Talk (GChat). Contact program director Dr. Rick Mulkey at rick.mulkey@converse.edu for more details.
  •  Acquire transcripts and letters of reference. This may seem like a no-brainer, but be sure to follow up with the programs to which you are applying to ensure your transcripts actually arrived. One of mine didn’t, and I had to re-request that the transcript be sent. Letters of reference should be written by someone who knows you and is familiar with your writing skill—other than your mother. Consider former professors and deans who read your work, but don’t limit reference letters to academia, unless required. Consider also the boss for whom you wrote a fifty-five page technical manual or employee handbook. Be sure to carefully read each program’s application instructions, as some will request that references be mailed and postmarked at the source, while others will want the letters included in the application packet.
  • The personal essay. Your personal essay should be honest and heartfelt, but not folksy or humorous. Attending an MFA program is one of the most serious decisions you’ll make in your life, so treat it as such in this essay. Describe why you want to be involved in a writing community as intense as an MFA program. What is it that led you to the decision, and what is your motivation to engage in three years of study? How will you make time for the rigorous schedule (typically 20-25 hours a week) of coursework? What obstacles might you encounter, and how do you plan to overcome them? Why does this particular program appeal to you, over others that are available? Are you able to accept critique and apply it to your work? Again, read the application instructions for clues as to what the program director and faculty are seeking in this essay.
  • The writing sample. This is, without a doubt, the most important piece of your application packet. Programs will typically require between ten and twenty-five pages of your best work. Having said that, if your story ends on page eleven or twenty-eight, be sure to send it all—don’t leave them wondering about your ability to end a story. The sample should be appropriate for the program to which you’re applying. Don’t send a children’s picture book to a literary fiction program, and don’t send a short story to a poetry concentration program. Send your very best work. Let me say that again: Send your very best work. Don’t send anything that you haven’t had someone else proofread for typos. Better still; send something that you’ve shared with your writing critique group. Make sure your manuscript is properly formatted. For stories, use one-inch margins with 12-point font and double-spaced lines. It’s important not to take the writing sample lightly. If you don’t feel you have a current writing sample that’s up to par, begin a new piece, and wait to apply until you’re sure you have a high-quality manuscript to send.
  • Other important information. Most applications will ask you to include a list of prior publications and writing awards (if you have them), of professional writing organization memberships, or of writing workshops, conferences, or non-credit writing courses you have taken. Some may also ask for any writing-community involvement, so be certain to mention if you’ve led a writing workshop at your local library or youth camp. In short, if you have a writing accomplishment of any kind, or have worked or volunteered within a writing community, be sure to mention it.
  • Final details. How many copies of the application, essay, and writing sample must you include in your packet? Did you sign the check for the application fee? Did you include both your home and cell number on the application form? Did you write a cover letter for your packet (a brief note listing your enclosures and thanking the director for reviewing your application)? Now is not the time to recycle an old manila envelope, and by all means, if you have a coffee cup stain on your title page, reprint it! It’s not necessary to overnight your application (unless you’re approaching a deadline), but consider sending it in a sturdy cardboard, U.S. Priority Mail envelope. 

Now that you’ve completed and mailed your stellar application packets, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to post in the comments section below any feedback you receive from writing programs to which you’ve applied. Good luck!

My last day of residency at the Converse MFA Program.
My bittersweet last day of residency at the Converse MFA Program. Tired, but elated!

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