How to Make a Manuscript - a sorta manifesto, part 1

The very sad but honest truth is I have mixed feelings about my MFA experience. Tens of thousands of dollars is alot to spend on mixed feelings. Though I can't say it was useless for me to get an MFA or that my whole experience was terrible, I wish I felt more positively about my overall experience. That isn't to say I didn't meet talented, interesting, nice people who have helped me as a writer and become good friends --I have. My fellow students, many of the faculty and all of the staff were great people. And I learned a lot during and from my time in the post-graduate world.

I will say that when I had good teachers, the experience was very positive. They opened up new avenues for me that would not have been opened had I not been in grad school. It was also good to have time to set aside for writing with the justification of, "It's for grad school," to those near and dear who are not writers and do not necessarily "get" that that means taking time away from every day things to seclude oneself and create. It was a good way to get them into the idea that I need that time. And now, for the most part, they get it even without the justification of school.

The type of program I was in also had its benefits. A lot of what helped me learn was my freedom, within the low-residency program, to self-direct my efforts. So, when I did the project that began this blog -- a study of what a close reading of poetry actually is -- I learned a lot from my mentor, but I also learned a lot because I had the freedom to explore things that I came across on my own and adapt the project to those new discoveries. My mentor for the project was Baron Wormser, who had a large breadth and depth of knowledge on poetry and poets. When I had come across an article about Robert Duncan (who I'd not studied very much despite taking the Black Mountain course up at UMaine in 2000) back in March of 2008 from another friend's poetry blog, I talked to Baron about that article. From there he recommended I read "Fictive Certainties". If you count all the posts on this blog that reference that book, then you can see what an important role it has taken in my writing life.

There were other faculty members who I worked with in (the beleaguered) workshop, or during a semester as a mentor, or learned from during a faculty seminar, who offered thoughtful, positive and and constructive criticism and encouragement. Then there were the people I worked with who were not thoughtful and definitely not constructive in their criticism. There were faculty who barely offered any feedback. There were faculty whose interaction with me and other students was so negative it put us off from writing all together, at least for a while.

I should have been more resilient. I should have recognized a bully when I encountered one. I should not have been so impressionable as to think, "Oh, I'm just being too sensitive, one of those too-senstive grad students I hear people complain about. I need to just get over it." I should have believed in myself more. I should not have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to endure interactions with alleged "mentors" who I could hardly say did anything supportive or gave any good guidance, as is part of the definition of mentor. Of course there will be doozies that come out of my pen. That some things do need several drafts before thy're ready. I should have felt safe and comfortable sharing my ideas and creativity in their early rough stages with those professionals who were paid to help me. I shouldn't have felt talentless or stupid or incompetent for having written such things. In retrospect, I shouldn't have paid anything to anybody for such things. I probaly would have been better off forging my own way and seeking out supportive, though still challenging, people to share with who weren't from any formal institution but just a community of fellow writers. All of those shoulds and shouldn'ts, are over with, though. So, I should not dwell.

The thing is -- from what I can tell from further interaction in the writing world post-emeffay -- is that at some point, in some way, for some reason, everyone has a similar experience as I did. It seems to me that many poetry bullies exist out there. Ones whose visceral attacks on person, character, motive, and actual craft can be so petty, so intense, or so enervating that their victim is paralyzed by it -- either temporarily or permanently.

No matter how talented, thick-skinned or innocuous (and therefore unthreatening so should be left alone) the writer is, they have probably faced an attack of some sort. Some give up on writing and the writing community altogether. Some hide out, seclude themselves, continue writing, but don't share. Some continue interacting in the community, continue writing, but don't try to publish anything due to being burned from previous attempts at sharing (that's me). And some say, "Eff You," and just continue on after the hard blow, shaking it off and getting back in the game (yay, football metaphor in poetry talk). I admire those people very much. I want to be one of those people now. I am working on it. That's why I wrote my manifesto.

Popular Posts