You Have to Give to Get

Tomorrow morning, I leave at just after 6:00am for Baltimore to be part of the Borderlands Press Boot Camp. Each of the participants had to read and critique 15 other participants’ stories, up to 25 pages. Does this sound familiar?

I think that as a writer, my most valuable asset is having a group of people whose opinions I respect, to look over my work and give me feedback. But, like any valuable asset, it doesn’t come free.

In addition to the not-inconsiderable financial cost of grad school, I have upwards of 50 books to read each semester – that’s ~2 per week, 10-15 of which require annotations. I also have to write something like 100 pages of new work each semester. I have to read, critique and be prepared to discuss in detail the work of 5-6 of my fellow students per semester. For Borderlands Press Boot Camp, I had to pay to attend, but I also have to read and critique the work of the 15 other participants and be prepared to discuss it in detail. For the critique group I’ve been part of on and off for the past 4 years, I have to read, critique and discuss in depth an entire novel (not just the first 20 pages) every couple of months.

I’ve learned so much from all the people who have taken the time to critique my work, and when I critique theirs, I think hard about what I could do to make their work the best thing it can be. But I also want to point out to everyone who has ever said to me “You’re a writer. Could you just look at this thing that I wrote and tell me what you think?” that no, I can’t. I don’t feel that it would be fair to the dozens of other people who have made some real sacrifices and put in a lot of time to help me make my writing the best it can be.



Grad School Adventure!

Tomorrow, I leave for grad school. Classes don’t actually start until Thursday, but I’m not 22 anymore and don’t really fancy the idea of driving for six hours and then immediately jumping into things. I’m more of a get there the night before, scope things out, catch up on last-minute reading, have a relaxing soak sort of person.

I’ve been reading like nobody’s business, and as I expected, I didn’t get to all the 57 things I had to read before school started. I’m hoping that, as I did during my undergrad days, I can just keep my mouth shut, take a lot of notes, and hope the teacher doesn’t call on me. Some things never change.

Here’s what I’m nervous about:

  1. I’ll meet my critique group and they’ll all hate my writing – think it’s puerile, silly, unworthy of their time.
  2. I’ll attend the literary pedagogy classes and everyone in them will talk exactly the way the books are written, which is to say that they will be pedantic, boring and full of themselves. It makes the thought of teaching really unpleasant.
  3. I’ll miss my family so much that by the fourth day I’ll be ready to quit and just come home. This is the longest the Pirate and I will have been apart since he moved in with me ten years ago, and I’m afraid I’ll feel lost without him. I’m even more afraid that he’ll be lost without me.
  4. This is actually my biggest and most overriding fear: I won’t learn anything new. That I will have already heard everything that they have to say and I’ll be essentially wasting my time and money.

My current schedule looks pretty full. It’s funny, but low-residency grad school looks an awful lot like attending a writer’s conference. You get the schedule of all the “learning activities,” which are the same as the lectures given during conferences, and you don’t have to sign up for any of them. You just show up when the thing starts.

According to the student guide, students are supposed to attend “at least seven learning activities,” including participating in your assigned workshops. I’ve picked out 24 “learning activities” (that doesn’t include the required stuff like library orientation, mentor meetings, student readings, or new student orientations, of which there seems to be at least one a day), so I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. On the other hand, it’s not like each of these is an ongoing class. Each one is, at most, a two-hour lecture. I can’t imagine only doing seven of these things, but then again, I’ve never done this before.

I’m off to start packing. I leave tomorrow morning and make the drive down to Los Angeles. I’ll let you all know how it’s going.