Six Things the Warren Wilson MFA Residency Taught Me


#1 – That I Want to Earn My MFA One Day

            One of the reasons I applied to this residency was to get a taste of the MFA experience, so to speak, in the hopes that it would confirm my inclination that I wanted to earn my MFA after my undergraduate creative writing career at Wilson comes to a close. I had already begun an application to Oxford University for their Mst program (an English equivalent to an MFA) when this program began but I knew I could always pull that application. However after experiencing these nine days of lectures, classes and readings I’m sure I will not be pulling that application and I will be continuing my application for the Mst as well as other American programs. This has been a little writing oasis for me. I adore the undergraduate creative writing program and I’m extremely grateful for it, however as an undergraduate I’m not solely focused on my creative writing due to gen ed classes, classes for my other, work requirements, service requirements and the desire to have some kind of social life. An MFA on the other hand is a time to solely focus on the work of creative writing. To not have to think about multiple classes and subjects, but to spend time honing and becoming a master of that one skill is truly a beautiful thing. Just being around that kind of intense study and focus has made me thoroughly excited for my own MFA experience that who knows, if everything works out, may be happening in September.


#2 – That Writers Love Artists

            Last year my painting teacher told me I had two lovers, art and writing, and one day I would have to choose one over the other. I cried that day. I have always been a firm believer in all art forms, visual, performance and the written word and how all of these forms can work together in harmony. To hear my painting teacher say I had to be one type of the artist or the other broke my heart and I decided I was going to prove I could do both with equal passion and dedication. This past semester I began my senior art project, won best in painting in the senior art show and was accepted into this class. Art and writing are two halves of my soul and in the outside of myself I see them as siblings. Obviously they are very different with different skills and attributes but they come from the same gene pool. That all being said it thrilled my little heart to hear so many of the lecturers use the process of creating visual art as an analogy for creating the written word. Additionally all the quotes from artists like Picasso and Monet, especially in C.J Hribal’s lecture, gave me the Goosebumps because I understand and have been in the thick of both creative processes. The intention behind each form is practically identical and the obsession, as C.J pointed out, required for both is equal but as Logenbach pointed out at the beginning of the residency each medium has its out nuances and soul. This reoccurring theme of tying visual and written art together throughout this residency has been a boost for me and reminded me how happy I am to be studying both of these things at this fine institution.


#3 – That there is An Infinite Amount of Things to Read (And Attempting to Read Them Will Make Me a Better Writer)

            My notebook is full of authors and stories mentioned throughout the residency that I haven’t read but know I should. I haven’t always been the best at reading outside of class assigned work, but this residency has shown me that if I want to continue to produce work and be up to date with all the themes and developments within the profession I’ve chosen to pursue I better become a more industrious reader. I’m thrilled though by all the suggestions I’ve received and I can only hope I find the time within the semester to read all of them.

#4- That Form is an Organic, Evolving and a Discussion Worthy Thing

            C.J’s lecture on the novella and the panel on non-fiction really showed me how silly it is to be confined to a form. Yes we all have forms we prefer to work in, but they shouldn’t restrict us from branching out. Many of these lectures have also showed me that throughout history it’s by people pushing the boundaries of genre and form that exciting and new things happen. And as they do we have a right to investigate and discuss them but we should never try stop this natural evolution. I also found it interesting how taboo nonfiction is within the MFA. I find nonfiction the most difficult and honest form since you have nothing to hide behind, it’s you on display for the world and not a character. Therefore I find it perplexing that there isn’t a track for nonfiction in this MFA and many MFA’s around the country.

            Sorry for that little tangent, but to bring it back to form and its organic state I loved what C.J said about length during his lecture that “I believe writers choose forms but length dictates itself, the same way water chooses its depth.” I believe this speaks to the organic nature I’m discussing. We can start off with a plan for a work but we have to be open to the works own natural adaptions and evolutions. If we try to prevent that natural progression we are not being true to the medium or our own artistic values.


#5 – That Presentation Can Make or Break a Work  

            I have never sat through so many readings before therefore I believe I’ve never really noticed this, but after experiencing this MFA I’ve come to see how important presentation is for an author. I had only previously thought of presentation as the layout on the page but after sitting through lectures and readings I now known the oral presentation of a work can make or break a thing. There were numerous readers who I’m sure if I read the work off the page I would have enjoyed but I couldn’t stand the way they were presenting the work orally. Many spoke to fast or too low and the words all ran together, thus giving me no chance to digest them. However others like David Haynes, Dean Bakopolous and Kevin Mclloy spoke with such clarity and precision that I was enthralled throughout their work and therefore I want to read more of their work outside of this program. It’s not a huge thing, but something I will definitely keep in mind for my future as a writer.


#6 – That Obsession, My Own Artistic Devotion and Aesthetic are What Ultimately Matter

            There were many technical terms thrown around this residency that I didn’t fully understand, many authors I didn’t know and many grand philosophical questions presented that I honestly didn’t care about but despite this I never felt uncomfortable or discouraged. I felt as though I was learning, which of course is the point, but beyond that throughout the lectures, readings etc I discovered that while the technical, name game and philosophical are all good the more important things are the obsession, devotion and aesthetic. Almost all of the presenters had an obsession, Mclloy with his sound, Crim with her descent into hell, Manning with his things unsaid and so on and so forth. Many of these authors on this residency have found a particular aspect of the art that they obsess over and more than that they obsess over the art in general and I think it’s that obsession that creates great authors and artists. The obsession in turn creates this furious drive to explore and push and create.

            You’re always thinking about the next story, the next way you can push boundaries and incorporate the nuances you’re enthralled by. And then the obsession and the drive meld to create a particular aesthetic in an artist’s work and that is what creates something beautiful and different from peers. I suppose that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. I’ve always known I need to be persistent (as far as creating work) to be successful. But now I think I know I need to push beyond mere persistence in the production of work and push into the persistence of challenging myself. I need to be persistent in becoming obsessed and devoted to pushing themes within my work and the aesthetic I use to present those themes. I don’t have to try fit into something. Indeed this MFA has shown me that it’s better to try break then fit. It’s better to push then just create the same. And in that process I’m probably going to create work I hate but I might also create something entirely new and beautiful .After hearing all the amazing and experienced authors at this residency I somehow feel more confident in my journey as a writer.  I feel as though I’ve been given tools and pathways to become a better and more honest writer.

* I wrote this as my evaluation of what I learned during the 2014 Winter Residency of the Warren Wilson MFA program. I wrote it for the undergraduate class that accompanied the residency.

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