It took me 8 months to find an agent and a year on sub to get a deal. And my first deal was for my second book. I was very down on myself and wondered if I was working so hard for nothing. My 620 and 630 mentors kept my spirits up. Every packet you send, you get a 4-6 page single-spaced letter back from your mentor, full of advice and guidance on your work. Some of those letters, I just wanted to hug. Every one of them made me a better writer, though I believe I have tons of room to grow. I can’t single out a piece of advice, except they kept saying, “Be patient. It will happen.” That’s worth gold. Plus, you will learn about publishing at the residencies.
I wrote Touched as a 610. Then I edited it as a 620 with my mentor’s help. I got an agent that semester, and started the sequel. Then as a 630 (while on submission to editors with Touched) I wrote If I Lie. I finished writing it in December and my mentor helped me edit it every step of the way. I should add that all my mentors were gracious enough to read MORE pages than we are required to submit – not all mentors do this. In February 2011 I sold If I Lie and then in March I sold Touched in a three book deal. In my last year as a 640, I wrote Pushed and the beginning of a new contemp. My novels were my homework which made it a labor of love. I do make writing goals. I try to write at least 1k every night and more on the weekends. The Starbucks crew knows me well. 🙂
The critical papers are only 3-5 pages, and I could knock them out in a few hours. As for the reading, YOU pick the books on your reading list (though your mentor may make a few suggestions). Always wanted to read Jane Eyre? Do it. Writing thrillers and want to read Stephen King? Do it. Reading the books you want to read vs. the ones your professor makes you read makes a HUGE difference in enthusiasm. As a 610, each packet you turn in 2 papers and 30 or so pages of writing (for a fiction student). That means you read 2 books each packet since each paper is on a different book. MOST of your time is spent on the writing, which is how it should be. As always, you should check with the school to see if these requirements have changed.
I am a workaholic. I’m probably not the best person to ask on this. While in school, I was balancing school, a full time job, two publishing deals, a literary festival committee, and I was editor of the alumni newsletter. (Note: I’m not married and don’t have kids so that helps.) I would say it does not take 25 hours of work a week. Some weeks I didn’t touch school at all, because I was overwhelmed with work or other commitments or just needed a breather to veg in front of the TV. Other weeks, I did homework every night, plus the weekend to make up for slacking off. It’s a balancing act. I will say, you get out of the program what you put into it. This isn’t a hobby for me. I wanted it to be a career so I invested in it like such. Life gets in the way sometimes. A few times I turned in a packet late because I was traveling for work. The faculty was very understanding, but you should always check with your mentor.
I suggest that you try both. I initially planned to do all summer residencies because I wanted to travel. As a 610 and 620 student, I invited friends to come with me. As much I loved my time with them, I would have bonded with my classmates more if I’d gone on my own. When I decided to go to Louisville for my 630 residency, I went by myself and I made ten amazing friends, one of whom became my roommate for my 640 and graduating residencies overseas. Fewer people go to the overseas residencies, so the group bonds more intensely. That’s not to say you won’t have a similar experience on campus if you go and put yourself out there. As far as an academic experience, the on-campus residencies are more intense with fewer breaks, but the summer ones offer experiences you may never have otherwise (I heard Thomas Hardy read in a heath, ate Indian food in Bath, saw flamenco dancers in Spain, saw amazing artwork in Italy, and spent my graduation night on a boat in Paris.) It all depends on what you’re looking for.
Controlled chaos. Every residency you get a 14-18 pg schedule that tells you exactly where you need to be when. You have a mix of lectures, workshops, and readings to attend every day from sun up to well after sun down. Spalding mixes in local art things, too, like a show of some type. If you go abroad, you have tours added to the mix. And once that all is done, you go back to your room and do homework or you hang out in the lobby shooting the breeze with a bunch of writers who get you and your closeted writing habit. It’s the most tiring, thrilling 10-days and even with all the work, it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to people who have become dear friends. Also, I always leave invigorated and bristling with ideas.
You mostly attend workshops for your subject. If you are Fiction, all the writers in your workshop write fiction. One semester you can choose to workshop in another area. I decided to do that as my 640 residency so I could experience a workshop in the Writing for Children group since that’s what I write. Within the Fiction workshop, the range of styles varies, meaning three people write literary, one sci-fi, and then I was always throwing things off by being a crossover YA/adult writer. I found I got a ton out of studying and commenting on the work of others, as exciting as it is to hear my work discussed for an hour. Even if the work you’re reading is not your area, there’s a lot you can learn. You will get the opportunity to do some cross-genre work, though.
100%. A lot of MFA programs push you to write short stories. I wasn’t interested in that. I had a goal to write at least one novel over the course of the program with every intention of getting it published. I was a Fiction student so I started off with a Fiction novel. Then halfway through the year, I read a young adult novel that sparked my imagination. My mentor told me to go ahead and write the story I needed to. That turned into my first young adult novel that sold as a trilogy in 2011. And even though I stayed a fiction student (which means I worked with Fiction mentors and attended Fiction lectures/workshops vs. those for the Writing for Children and Young Adult group), every mentor gladly encouraged me to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I ended up writing three novels over the course of the program (which is NOT the norm, but I was very driven). I recommend figuring out what you want from the program and setting some internal goals for yourself. I felt like the program paid off for me because I did that. Your goal may be writing short stories to submit to journals or preparing a poetry chapbook. You decide what you want and then make the criteria work for you.
You can visit their website here.
Yes, and a huge whopping yes. I was initially accepted into 3 MFA programs. When one school called to follow up and I told the person I was going to Spalding, he wished me luck and said he’d only heard effusive things about the program. And he was right. Spalding is not stuffy. They are not a breeding ground for writers who have big egos and maybe not so much talent. What they are is a strong support system that will guide you, train you, and encourage you to tell that stories that are inside you, whether it’s a genre novel or literary fiction.
This post says it all.
It’s kind of a funny story. I found out on Twitter.
Yes. Many times. This post talks about the time before I found an agent.
I wrote this painful post about it.
This will give you a good idea.
Here’s an in-depth post with lots of advice.
Yes. Below are a couple of posts I wrote all about my outlining process.
Below are a few posts that I’ve written on querying, including a sample of the letter that got me my agent.
The Class of 2k12 – 2012 debut authors
The Apocalypsies – YA and Middle Grade Writers Debuting in 2012
SCBWI – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Litquake – San Francisco’s Literary Festival
RWA – Romance Writers of America
San Francisco RWA Chapter
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte
From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden – Great tips for all writers on plotting and more
First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner – Great worksheets to help outline your story and characters
Forensics and Fiction by D.P. Lyle, M.D. – Awesome for mystery or crime writers
Body Trauma by David W. Page, M.D., FACS – A writer’s guide to wounds and injuries
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Plus check out the “How Writers Do It” series that I hosted where 10 writers explored popular writing guides.
It’s a health challenge I’m running to help writers and bloggers lead a healthier lifestyle. You can find out more here.
Me! I used to be a graphic designer. I modified a CMS WordPress theme for my purposes, but all the design elements are mine. I’m using the Avada theme from ThemeFusion.
The hardest part of writing a novel is sitting down to write day after day until you type THE END. It takes perseverance, sacrifice, stretchy pants, and loads of dedication. If you want to write, do it. Practice often. Find good teachers. Get in a crit group. Find beta readers. But most important of all, do the work.