Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Guest Post from a New MFA Student

I am happy to present this guest post from Deonne Kahler, who is about to begin the MFA adventure here in New York (at Queens College of The City University of New York). Please check back for a follow-up post from Deonne once her program gets underway. Enjoy!

A Fifth Reason to Go to Grad School? All the Ramen I Can Eat!

by Deonne Kahler

When I tell people I’m about to start an MFA program they say, Gee Deonne, you’ve already accumulated hundreds of clips (the result of writing for newspapers for seven years) so you must know how to string words together. Why the heck do you want to spend the money and time on a degree that might not increase your writing income one iota? (Question: is my use of the word “iota” further proof I don’t need an MFA?) And don’t you think you could just spend more time in bars (a la Hemingway, but without that nasty suicide business) and gather material that way? Don’t you think you should skip the academics, live life, and just write?

That’s perfectly fine advice, and I must admit it’s tempting to have a legitimate reason to spend more time in bars. But then I’d probably just end up writing some sad chronicle of my years battling alcoholism, involving overuse of the words “vomit,” “rock bottom,” and “rehab,” and lord knows we have enough of those.

The “just write” part is legitimate if you either feel like you already have a good grasp on craft, or you don’t and are prepared to learn by doing a lot of self-directed reading and writing. But if you’re anything like me that could take a long time, meaning, I’m a world-class procrastinator – I’m the Michael Phelps of procrastination. (Question: isn’t my willingness to use lame metaphors proof I do need an MFA?)

My reasons for going to grad school:

1. Focused, structured study of the art and craft of writing. I’ve yet to find a bartender who offered me a reading list, deadlines and critique.
2. A ready-made community of writers, both fledgling (students) and accomplished (faculty).
3. The chance to work on a literary journal (QC’s Ozone Park). This in tandem with my internship at The Feminist Press should give me excellent publishing and editorial experience.
4. Because I can. I’ve got the savings (for awhile, anyway), I’m entirely unencumbered, and I really, really, really want to do this. ‘Nuff said.

There’s only one thing I’m anxious about: grades. My undergrad experience in that department was, ahem, less than stellar, and I’m already anxious about that first grad school report card, because I’m pretty sure if it’s bad my parents will ground me. Other than that, I’m psyched for the experience. Like Michael Phelps before a race. (Somebody stop me.)

Here’s what I hope to accomplish at Queens:

1. Become a better writer. Duh.
2. Complete a manuscript. Whether that will be a novel or memoir remains to be seen, and I’m giving myself the first semester to decide. We don’t technically have to start our thesis (the manuscript) until second year, but I’m a slow writer and get anxious if I don’t have enough time to do something I care about. So I’m planning to start early.
3. Develop a daily writing practice. Up until now my non-freelance writing has been haphazard at best. I believe great writers are born from hard work and regular practice (how very Calvinist!), and since I do want to be great, or at least extra good, I’ll need the discipline of regular writing to carry me beyond the structure of grad school.

That’s where I’m at. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going, but if you don’t hear from me it means I sent home a terrible report card and am on restriction until I get my grades up, and I’d better quit my crying or I’ll really have something to cry about. Wish me luck.


Zoë said...


An MFA is a future possibility I always keep in my mind, for the very reasons you've listed.

I've recently been blogging about giving myself a daily writing routine (http://www.zoewesthof.com/blog), but I still don't have as much community/support/criticism as would be ideal to improve my writing.

I'm excited to hear how you feel after the program starts!

deonne kahler said...

Zoe - love your blog. Your word count commitment is admirable, and I imagine that forcing yourself to post your daily numbers for the whole world to see will help you stick to it. Even though none of us would judge you if you wrote little or at all, (though we want you to write!), the self-judgment is enough, don't you think? Public commitment to anything seems to make a difference. I'm wishing you persistence!

Writer said...

Thanks for the post
An MFA is a future possibility I always keep in my mind, for the very reasons you've listed. Writing is a passion for now a students. Writing is a very good habit. Everybody should have this habit. Most of from us write diary regularly where we write about our self and our life. Now a day there is a everybody have its own blog to share their ideas to the common people and their fans.
please visit www.writerslinkup.com

Baakanit said...

Some of us perform better under pressure, with some body whipping us. The MFA is a good choice, for that and many of the reasons exposed. Those who have the chance, time and money to attend to a program of this kind, are vey lucky.

Jolie said...

Great post. I am in the middle of the application stage, and you've certainly given me some ideas for my personal statement. :P

I'm applying to Queens, in fact! Maybe I'll see you there next fall.

deonne kahler said...

Jolie - good luck with your grad school applications! I'm quite impressed with the Queens program all the way around, and if you have any questions feel free to email me (deonne [at] deonnekahler [dot] com).