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.