Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A long-winded explanation of why I am smiling

It's Wednesday, y'all, and I just want to shout, "Yee-Freakin'-Haw!  I finished my last packet of the semester!!!!"  

Wait, you don't know what a packet is, do you? 

You see, I'm a grad student (as well as one each of the following: writing professor (on leave), freelance writer, mom of two crazy kids, wife (I feel like that needs to be said, even if it sounds June Cleaver-ish), and what else, volunteer, oh oh and blogger.).  Most people don't exactly understand my grad program.  Many think it's a joke or a waste of money - friends and family who I love, mind you. But it isn't.  I've learned a great day and formed an amazing writing community of smart, funny, talented writers across the US and across continents.

So, in a nutshell this is what I do:

I study creative writing (in my case, the genre is Creative Nonfiction (or CNF) ) in a low-residency program (and in my case at the amazing Spalding University MFA in Writing Program).  Students in this program come to campus twice a year, in the fall and spring, to workshop their writing with a small group of 5-8 students from around the world, and an excellent published writer as their workshop leader.  This is called a residency.  Each residency lasts for ten days.  We also attend lectures, have special projects to create, have visiting writers, and visit cultural attractions. Then the semester begins.  A regular semester lasts about six months, with a packet of original writing due every four weeks.  Each packet consists of 35-40 pages of original work and critical analyses. 

To make matters more confusing, I have studied abroad with the program twice (once in Buenos Aires and once in Italy) and once at home on the Louisville campus.  Each of MY semesters have been a "stretch," meaning I take a little longer to work on my packets (six weeks instead of four).  During the semester, each student is assigned a mentor from the faculty, with whom we work one-on-one via email and phone calls.  We submit our packets of original writing to this mentor for feedback.  Each semester we write five packets.

I just submitted my fifth packet of my third semester, bitches!  Next semester is my last.  Hard to believe.

In honor of my achievement and of my free block of time to write without deadlines (except for the monthly column I write) until I start prepping for summer semester (in IRELAND!!), I will leave you with a photo of happiness posted on Facebook this morning by Dog Bless You.  (I love their page.  You should go to there.)

I am covered-in-puppies happy


  1. Being "covered-in-puppies" happy is pretty damned happy! And you should be! I got the same comments when I was in the program from people who thought it was a waste of time. Love them, mean it, but wanted to punch them in the ear sometimes. But congrats to you! You're over the halfway point this semester! Such an accomplishment, indeed!

    Is it wrong that I miss it so much and feel horribly adrift without the constant fear of disappointing Ellie or Julie or Kenny with a shitty packet?

    1. Are you kidding? I'll miss it like hell when I leave. Why do you think I've stretched it out so long? That said, I cannot wait to work with Dianne this summer. It brings tears to my jaded eyes. NO, it isn't wrong at all.

      Thanks for the congrats. It's a weird thing to explain to people who earn "paychecks."

  2. Oh Amy, I have grad-school-envy. I already have one MA but would love my MFA. We have a college in town with a great program, but alas, this decision to quit my job and write has left me dream-rich, but money-poor. I read a lot of craft books instead, hoping to learn as much as I can. I would love to be a part of a creative non-fiction program. You are balancing a lot and I admire your drive and energy!

  3. Hi Julie,

    Don't be envious. I envy you your huge leap. I fear I don't have that commitment or trust in myself yet. As for grad school (and it has been great), I've hocked my kids' college tuition to make it happen.

    I'd love to hear what craft books you recommend. Oddly, I haven't read that many.

  4. you are such a clever girl. this is your non grad school, no ma friend bev. i only stayed in university long enough to get the first degree. what sort of craft books do you think julie, up there, reads? i just received my first copy of mslexia magazine so i'm feeling all writey

    congrats on all your hard work
    ps you should post some things from your packets.

    1. Bev,
      Not clever, no, just downsized and in need of purpose. I don't know mslexia, but it sounds like something I need to know.

      PS I will not be posting unfinished drafts; however, I do have a tab at the top of the blog with links to my published pieces. Have at it!

      PSS Would you ever consider being a reader for me? I'd love to get feedback on a piece or two with which I can't figure out what the hell is wrong!

    2. Mslexia.. haven't heard of that either, but I think I was diagnosed with it once...

      OK Lady Writers-- here are my fav craft books, but I have a heap because I am so trying to self-educate.

      For pure inspiration (write like the wind, Bullseye) I recommend:

      Anne Lamott-- Bird by Bird
      Stephen King- On Writing
      Annie Dillard-- The Writing Life
      Brenda Ueland- If You Want to Write (among my favorite- a little known jewel of a book written in 1933)
      Stephen Pressfield-- The War of Art

      For Novel How-Tos:

      Donald Maass-- (or pretty much any of his books) The Fire in Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel
      James Scott Bell-- (again any of his books) Revision & Self Editing
      Blake Snyder-- Save the Cat

      Next craft books up to read are:

      Martha Alderson- The Plot Whisperer
      Kidder and Todd-- Good Prose:The Art of Nonfiction(written by Tracy Kidder)

      What do you both recommend? I'm always open for new learnin'


    3. Pick me, too. I love reading.

    4. Kate - seriously? I'd love your input!!! Same goes for you. And you, too, Bev. I have an email button now, ladies. Use it!

      Thank you for sharing. I read Bird By Bird ages ago and plan to read Tender Mercies here soon, so I'll pull it back out. I've always heard that Steven King's book is fab. The Kidder book looks promising. I think I have Dillard's somewhere on my bookshelf.

      Honestly, I'm this far into grad school and honestly don't have many recommendations. We haven't been assigned ANY craft books. We read a lot of books, but craft tends to come from lectures and workshops. This frustrates me a little. Would you agree, Kate? I know you were in fiction, so you may have had a different experience.

      I'm reading Ann Patchett's The Getaway Car right now and will let you know if she offers good advice.

      I, too, am always up for new learnin'.

      By the way, Julie, what is the name of your blog? Can you share a link?

      Thanks for sharing!!

    5. I have two. One geared towards the writing community ( and the other is new and just more fun sort essays ( Looking forward to hearing what you think about patchett's book.

    6. Julie,
      I'm going to check out both blogs right now. Then I'm going to add your titles to the running list I keep on my phone.

      Happy Friday!


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