Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Last Word on Eula Biss by Michelle Hasler

Eula Biss has come and gone, but her advice is still buzzing around the MFA program. In each of my three workshops, we have adopted her terms, her phrases, her lessons. She has, fulfilling the hopes we have of our Sanders Writer in Residence, left a residual aura of encouragement, of energy, of passion in writing. Here are some of the lessons that continue to resonate:
  • ·      Hotspot: a minor reference with major implications. Expand on this. There’s more to this idea than you might have originally thought.
  • ·      Cut 50%: on your first draft you should cut fifty percent, expand, cut again, expand, cut again, until you can barely cut anything. Then, cut again.
  • ·      Research(!): Even when it is not obvious in the text, your research will add more depth and completeness to the piece.
  • ·      In early drafts, write through the white space and the section breaks. Even if you cut all of the information later, you have forced yourself to work through the gaps so that the reader will get a more thorough sense of the message and story you are trying to present.
  • ·      Traditional transitions can be an unhealthy habit for writers because they create redundancy at best.
  • ·      Your character has to be round; you cannot have a villain on the page. Find information and context that allows readers to better understand and sympathize with that character—even if we still decide to dislike them in the end.
  • ·      Use in-text citations for all research so that you save yourself the pain of having to fact check later.
  • ·      To make sure that each word has power and impact, you can ask yourself: can this paragraph be condensed into one sentence? And then, can this sentence become a single word?
There they are for those of you who did not know—and for the rest of us who just can’t seem to get enough.

Michelle Hasler is a nonfiction candidate in the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Remembering Kim McCoy

I learned this morning about the passing of one of my former students, our MFA alum, Kim McCoy, who many of you knew as Kim Vann.  She was young, and talented, and sweet, and kind, but, of course, none of those things, as much as we might wish they could, can save your life.  And so I find myself trying to avoid those thoughts of unfairness and a missed future, and trying instead to simply acknowledge my own sadness and the sadness of those who were close to Kim, and for who there will forever be, someone who is missing and missed.  Sometimes, I think so much about my students' futures; it is hard not to consider Kim's unfinished novel--about people living in a house that was on fire (an idea so good I had to sit on my hands not to steal it--still do)--and her unpublished short stories (her thesis was one her committee members and I still talked about some 4 years later).  But I am trying to remember, that what matters really is not a student's future, but their present.  That for the three years they are members of our MFA program, it is our job--my job--to help them live those three years as the gift that they are.  I know Kim valued her time spent with us, as a writer and a teacher of writing, amongst a community of writers many of whom became her treasured friends.  Kim only got thirty-three years, and I really value that for three of them I got to be alongside her.  I know all of us who knew her feel that way.

You can read more about Kim here.

--Papatya Bucak