Paul Lisicky inadvertently broke the ice with our workshop. As usual, we shifted in our seats before the workshop began, nervously making small talk with one another in order to prove we weren’t uncomfortable, wouldn’t try too hard or be dorkily overeager for this year’s Sanders Writer-in-Residence. After launching into the short reading he passed around the room, he realized we hadn’t introduced ourselves.
“Oh my gosh!” he said, bringing his hands to his head. “And now it’s so awkward.”
The week continued like that — valuable literary lessons of how to use small frames to create a narrative, how to use music in writing, delivered with honesty and self-deprecating humor. No posturing or formulaic responses.
Lisicky even seemed to enjoy his time with us. When we would thank him for delivering such thoughtful workshop plans, he’d say, “You’re all energizing me!” He even came out for post-workshop drinks with us, patiently answering questions about MFA programs and agents, putting up with graduate student humor, and posting a picture of our group on his personal Instagram. He shared more time than he was required to, admitted when he didn’t know the answer to a question, and always spoke with joy and energy.
In writing workshops, I learn as much about the leader’s personality as I do about the writing principles they’re teaching.These writing lessons will nudge my poetry and prose a few steps in a new direction, and certainly the sustained, intense concentration on writing for a full week brings me renewed motivation to just sit down each day and write. But I mostly remember how each workshop was led.
Lisicky reminded me about the value of joy, enthusiasm, generosity, and humility. Here is a list of what I’ve learned in grad school:
- Every time you don’t know something, admit it.
- Always bring food to 7-10 p.m. classes.
- If you’re suffering imposter syndrome, know that almost everyone else is, too.
- Look for the courage to take your writing seriously.
- While teaching and course work are important, don’t use them as excuses not to write.
- Enjoy every 2 p.m. grocery shopping trip.
- When you’re sleep deprived but have a mountain of work, sleep before you work.
- Physical health is tightly braided with mental health, and both are tied to creativity.
- Don’t take your writing so seriously that it doesn’t sound like you or makes you afraid to fail.
- Experiment with your writing for fun.
- You don’t have to know now what you want to do for a day job.
- It’s OK to stay home on a Friday night.
- If you want to be friends with someone, consider making the first move.
- Read work that inspires you and draws you outside your comfort zone.
- Enjoy the gift of time to focus on writing.
Kathleen Martin is an MFA candidate at Florida Atlantic University. Her work is forthcoming in Gulf Stream Literary Magazine.