Tomorrow begins my 10 day residency with the Converse MFA program. We'll meet twice a year, but the rest of the time I will work with my mentor. For the first semester, I have Cary Holladay. I've read a few of her short stories and I'm in awe. While she is an accomplished writer and renowned professor, she is new to this program too.
We have craft lectures and reading scheduled with Susan Tekulve, Denise Duhamel, Marlin Barton, Suzanne Cleary, Allison Joseph, Jon Tribble, Robert Olmstead, Jim Minick, Cary Holladay, John Bensko, Richard Tillinghast, Dan Wakefield, Rick Mulkey, and Leslie Pietrzyk.
I am excited and overwhelmed. It is scary when you go into a new situation and I will be having workshops with people I don't know.
For those of you who don't know, workshops are where you meet with your mentor and fellow students and critique one another's work. While it is usually in the best of spirits, I have been through some tough critiques while in the BFA, thankfully not with my mentor, but with one student in particular. I finally quit subjecting myself to her criticism. It wasn't worth it to read what she had to say. It is hard to see your work slashed and laid open for all to see. When you write, you expose yourself and there you are waiting for other people to criticize you.
One of my professors told me that workshops are valuable, but you also have to pay attention to who is critiquing you. Note the general consensus of the critiques. If the majority says to cut a scene or make a change, you should consider it. If one person just doesn't seem to get your work, then maybe they aren't your target audience. Be respectful, listen, but remember that you are the author — it is ultimately your decision when revising.
While reading my fellow students work (we received them back in April, but I like to wait until closer so that the pieces are still fresh in my mind), I was amazed by the talent. I know you'll be seeing some of these folks in print in the future.
I also saw some areas for possible improvements. I saw mistakes, which were easy to point out because I am guilty too.
I had to read several war stories. I liked the first one, but after that it was too much for me, and not because the writing was bad, but just because it is a subject that doesn't appeal to me. I'm a middle aged Southern woman, war stories just aren't my thing.
When critiquing, I try to keep to the golden rule by saying things in a way that I feel I would like to receive them. I hope my fellow students do the same.