Tag Archives: grad school

Graduation

As of last Wednesday, I have officially graduated from graduate school with my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing.

It seems strange to say that I’m done with school since I’ve been in it one way or another for nearly 20 years. I still may go back for a MA in literature, but for now, I’m done.

It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I feel like in the fall I should be ordering texts for class and preparing my backpack with supplies.

I guess I’ll be doing much of the same thing because in the fall I’ll be an adjunct professor at two universities, teaching freshman writing. An adjunct professor is basically a part-time professor who teaches the underclassmen. An entry level professor. It’s the bottom of ladder, but at least I’m on a rung. I’ll be one step closer to becoming a full-time English professor. It may take years to get there, but I’m willing to stick it out.

For most of my life, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I went from wanting to be an archaeologist to a doctor to an English professor. What I really want to be is a writer, but I think I can balance that with working as a professor. I’ll be teaching students about writing and literature while actively engaging in that community. I’ve seen the publishing industry change over the last five years, and I’ve been self-publishing for the last two. I’m someone who loves reading and writing, and I hope I can impart that to my future students. My life was changed drastically by the influence of a few key professors, and maybe one day, I’ll be that professor for someone.

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Happy Accidents

I did a thing. It was a semi dumb thing and I’m not sure why I did it.

As you may or may not know, my third book, The Earl and the Artificer, is also my MFA thesis project, so I have an advisor who is supposed to look at it and give me feedback along with a class who does the same. Thus far, my thesis advisor has been very lenient with me. Some demand at least a chapter a week or put their students on a strict schedule, but he’s pretty much let me do what I want since he knows I’ll get it done.

Well, I knew he would need to see something before the end of the semester, something substantial, in order to give me a grade. Originally, I told him I would hand in the finished piece (unedited) by mid-October. At the time, it sounded like a good idea. I’d have all the time in the world. I’m only taking two classes, so how much work could I have? A lot, that’s how much.

This is when I did something dumb. Part of my job in the English department is to create a newsletter, so I spend a bit of time emailing professors, harassing them until they tell me what they’ve published this semester or what events they’re holding. While emailing my advisor to ask him about his writing, I wrote, “I’ll be leaving an edited draft of the first act, which is about 80 pages in your mailbox next week.” I sent the email off without thinking much of it until about an hour later. NEXT WEEK?! Was I temporarily insane? At that point, I had only edited three out of the eleven chapters in act one. In less than five days, I would need to edit eight chapters to get them to where I was willing to show my advisor without cringing.

I immediately texted my best friend telling her of the stupid thing I had done. “But you work well under pressure!” she replied. I do, but why did I do this to myself? Why give myself added stress for no reason? If I had told him I would hand it in two weeks from then, he wouldn’t have cared and I wouldn’t have been freaking out. Then again, my best friend is coming from England in two weeks, and I would be worrying about my stupid project instead of getting ready for her arrival.

It’s strange, but it’s as if my subconscious gave me a boot in the ass. I’ve had ample time to edit my story, but I’ve been procrastinating and doing everything but writing and editing recently. Would I have had anything to hand in by the end of the month if I hadn’t accidentally cracked the whip on myself? Probably not.

Over the course of three days, I powered through chapters one to eleven, going over what I edited already and combing through the ones I hadn’t touched yet. Last night at midnight I finally finished. While I was too tired to add any new content to the story, I officially finished my edits of act one and will hand them into my advisor on Monday.

I’m somewhat proud of myself for actually getting this all done before the weekend and that on Monday I’ll be able to present my advisor with the first third of my work. After dilly-dallying for so long, it seems strange that I’ll actually be handing in part of my thesis. Luckily my mistake created this progress. Sometimes all you need is to give yourself a kick in the ass to get going.

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The Nervous Nelly

So I realized I haven’t written a blog post in over a week. I’m not sure how I managed that, but… sorry. I’ve been feeling mildly overwhelmed this past week. Our house has been torn apart by construction workers, which means my dogs have not shut up every time they come to work. Honestly, it’s been fraying my nerves a little.

This has been manifesting itself as anxiety at school. I try to keep my anxiety under wraps, but it’s like a bag filled with water. If you squeeze it down in one spot, it just pops up somewhere else.

During my thesis seminar class, I have been having a very hard time reading my work aloud. Part of the class is that we bring in a chapter/section of our project, read it aloud, and then our classmates give their feedback. My classmates and professor are great, so they aren’t the issues there. It’s just built-up anxiety.

I have been battling stage-fright for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I performed in the talent show and realized I was terrified by being on stage. In middle school and high school, I dreaded being called on to read aloud and being the center of attention was a nightmare. Unfortunately, this has stuck with me through college and graduate school. If I signed up for an MFA reading or to speak at a conference, I’m okay because I chose to speak and have prepared (probably over-prepared) for it. When randomly called upon, I feel my anxiety level jump about three notches.

Last Tuesday after dealing with strange people in our house, dogs barking all day, and trying to scarf down a late lunch at my job, my nerves were frayed by the time I got to my thesis class. I sat there with my classmates’ papers in front of me barely saying more than a few words. It seems as the anxiety level rises, so does my muteness. Everyone seemed ten times as chatty as they normally are and speaking seemed absolutely impossible, so I didn’t bother.

I sat for over an hour listening to everyone else read their work and get their feedback, my chest tightening as I watched the pool of potential readers dwindle until there was only me. In an instant, my spit dried up and no matter how much water I drank, it didn’t get any better.

“Your turn,” my professor said with a smile as she flipped to my chapter.

I drew in a tight breath, opened my mouth to speak, and faltered.

“Dear, you can have someone else read for you.”

“No, I’m fine. I’m just a nervous nelly, I’m fine.”

And so I droned on for five minutes, stumbling over words and apologizing for every screw-up. The one week I got out of reading my work aloud, I was so thankful, but this week, it was impossible. Yes, I could have said, “Please let someone else read my work,” but I can’t. It’s my story, and if I’m in the class, I will do whatever everyone else does even if it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I try to not let my anxiety run my life when it gets bad. Sometimes I fail at it, which of course causes another anxiety spike.

Some of you may be wondering why I bothered telling this story of a young woman who gets heart palpitations when she has to do a task as simple as reading aloud. The thing is, I want people who don’t have anxiety to understand how it all builds up. Yes, the task at hand may be simple, but you don’t know what has happened earlier that day or even earlier that week. Instead of telling the person to suck it up or not to worry (totally useless platitude, by the way), try to be supportive. Give them a moment to collect themselves or try to accommodate things that help lessen their anxiety. For example, I do better when I do my reading earlier because it doesn’t allow the anxiety to build over the course of an hour or two.

I also wrote this to remind those who have anxiety that you aren’t alone. Most of us put on a brave face, and while we’re melting into a puddle of anxiety, we barely show our panic on the outside. Just know, it can be managed and it feels worse than it looks most of the time.

If anyone has any tips for managing anxiety that have worked for you, please pass them on! I’m always looking for new ways to deal with stage fright and all of my other anxieties.

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Burn Out and the Grad School Grind

Grad school has begun again. Well, technically it began last week, but today marks my second week of classes. As much as I love my MFA program and the people in it, I hate the stress that comes with going to school. It sets me on edge and raises my anxiety, which means more headaches, stomach problems, and overall fatigue.

Back to school time can be very trying for people with anxiety. New people, new schedules, homework, deadlines, readings. It’s a difficult balancing act without having to add psyching yourself up to deal with people. Usually, I end up listening to music that pumps me up on my way to the university. It helps immensely, especially if you have another playlist that calms you that you can listen to on the way home. That transition time can allow you to decompress and not lash out at relatives when you arrive home. I still do it once in a while when a class has been particularly stressful, but it’s a lot less frequent than when I just went through the motions.

During this time of year, it’s very easy to get lost in the muddle of assignments and readings, but you need to remember to take time out for you. Your body is a reservoir that needs refilling, and if you get too low from stress and work, you will have a meltdown that will take time to recover from. It’s like a car battery. If you run a car for a while, then turn it off, and come back a few hours or a day later, the battery automatically refills itself, but if you leave a car on for three days straight, the battery will die, and it will take multiple jolts from another car to restart it. That’s what happens after a meltdown or if you let it get to low and you burn out.

Take time for you. Finish your assignments, get your readings done, create a schedule, but take time to do the things you enjoy. Don’t get buried in your work, or you will be burnt out by midterms. I know the reaction, I was there as an undergrad, “Take time for me? Are you crazy? Do you see the pile of crap I have to do? When am I supposed to fit that in?”

You can, trust me. When you have a lot of classes and assignments, you would be amazed how much a whiteboard calendar can help in terms of organization. Make lists of what you have to get done for the day or week. As you do them, cross them off, but leave time for you at least a few days a week. Go for a cup of coffee with a friend or take a trip to the mall. Get out of your normal space and do something you love. If you don’t like going out, read something you want to read, watch a few episodes (few- not a whole night’s worth unless you finished your work) of a show you enjoy. Do something that will make you happy and decompress.

It’s much easier to refill a half-full bucket than an empty one. Know your limits, know what you need to accomplish, and know that you matter. You aren’t a machine, despite what others may think.

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April 2015 in Review

Starting in January, I decided it would be a good idea to look back at each month and see what I have accomplished in my writing and marketing as well as reflect upon what needs to be improved in the future.

April was a crazy month. At the university, it’s crunch time for papers and projects along with a deluge of events. I think I spent more time at the university than I ever have in my past year and a half there. With all of these extra curricular activities, I was a tad stressed out. Okay, a lot stressed out, which led to me buying quite a few books. I have no shame regarding that, but I don’t think I should have rewarded myself for not getting as much done as I hoped.

What I did accomplish:

  1. Finished reading for class and turned in portfolio
  2. 50% done with final paper (I’ve been bad about finishing this)
  3. My thesis portfolio was accepted
  4. Learned more about marketing by reading Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book and Tim Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies
  5. Scheduled a 99 cent sale for The Earl of Brass from May 22nd-26th
  6. The Winter Garden has 6 Amazon reviews and 7 Goodreads reviews
  7. Sent out my first newsletter

Goals for May:

  1. Write 3-4 chapters of The Earl and the Artificer
  2. Do a preliminary edit on the chapters I write
  3. Read 3-4 books at least
  4. Stay positive and work on stress (as always)
  5. Do well with my reading at the Steampunk World’s Fair
  6. Get my art commission done

I think I’m most excited about the last one. One of my favorite artists opened her commissions again, and I jumped at the chance to get one. At first, I was wait-listed, but she added more slots to allow me a few others to get in. I won’t give too many details, but it will be Adam and Immanuel from The Winter Garden. As much as I’m looking forward to (and dreading) the Steampunk World’s Fair, I am super excited about more artwork of my characters. The date and time of my reading at the Steampunk World’s Fair will come in a few days. They’re still working on the schedule.

Anyway, April has been a difficult month for me. Everything was due for class, so I quickly polished off the books I needed to read and started my papers and portfolios. This means I have only been able to write one chapter. Luckily, by the end of the first week of May I should be able to really get back into writing book three.  In my last post, I discussed how book three has been my problem child, and it really has been. For me to write, I need to figure out what story within all of my random ideas I would truly like to read. Otherwise, the book is stilted and just not fun to write. After having a discussion in the car with my boyfriend last night, I feel that I have a better handle on where it’s going. I’m sure I’ll still pester my bestie some time this weekend about it.

I know I’ve set myself a somewhat rigorous schedule for May in terms of writing, but I think with time on my hands and a plan, I can get through at least three chapters. I tend to be a slow writer because I hem and haw over every word, yet I’ve gotten through that much before in a few weeks when I was really determined. The hidden “to-do” is to figure out the rest of my major plot points and get maybe the next five chapters mapped, so I can hit the ground running when I start writing in the next few days.

Last month, I gave myself the goal of working on managing my stress. I didn’t. I was a mess this month. Part of me doesn’t want to rely on excuses, but this month was insane. It seemed like I was constantly on the go. I was definitely stressed out, so much so that I threw my body out of whack. I really don’t want that to happen in May, so I will try to take things as they come and not freak out. This is partially why I gave myself the goal of reading a few books this month. I need to take time to read something good to engage my mind and imagination and to unwind a bit. Reading always helps me focus and inspire my writing. Some books I’m hoping to get through are: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, A Case of Possession by K. J. Charles, Auraria by Tim Westover, and Possession by A. S. Byatt. It’s an eclectic mix, but I’m dying to get to them.

So what are your goals for April?


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February 2015 in Review

Starting in January, I decided it would be a good idea to look back at each month and see what I have accomplished in my writing and marketing as well as reflect upon what needs to be improved in the future.

February was a meh month for all of my work.  While I finished the formatting for The Winter Garden in ebook and paperback and was able to move up the release date to March 15th, I didn’t get much done in terms of book three.  I did make a little progress with all of my projects. Maybe part of the problem is that my hands and mind are in too many places at once.

What I did accomplish: Continue reading

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Spring Semester, Sales, and Stories

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I have realized that when the semester begins again, I am horrible about updating my blog (I’m going to try to work on that this time).  It has been a crazy week but a good one.

This week was the beginning of the spring semester at my university.  At the beginning of each semester I am a bundle of nerves complete with tension headaches and the urge to vomit.  Last semester began with me coming home my second day there and crying at my kitchen table for feeling like an inadequate fraud after I didn’t know who Kerouac and Carver were.  Continue reading

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Wrap-up and Resolutions

Wow, 2014 has been a crazy year for me.  A great year but a whirlwind of insanity at times.

This year, I began graduate school to earn my MFA in creative and professional writing, and now that a full year in the program has passed, I can say that I love it and believe I made the right decision.  I don’t think my parents were terribly pleased when I decided to change my course of study in the second half of my junior year from pre-med to English major, but I’m a lot happier reading and analyzing books and writing constantly than I ever was doing dissections and memorizing muscle groups (though biology and science still hold a special place in my heart and in my books).  In 2014, I also became a graduate assistant at the university I attend, which means I help out the professors and put together the end of semester newsletter as well as work on the department’s literary magazine. Continue reading

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The Long-Term Goals of a Young Writer

Today I am heading back to graduate school to begin another semester studying creative writing.  Every time I start school anew, I feel my anxiety level rise tremendously as I worry my professors will not like me or my work, and the best way I have found for me to combat this is to look at the larger picture.  This year I achieved one of my major life goals, to publish a novel, and for this year and the beginning of next year, I would like to publish the second book in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series, The Winter Garden.  I’m 73,000 words into it, so I hope to be done in a month or two since my writing slows down exponentially once the semester starts.  Editing hopefully won’t take too long, so it is supposed to be out some time in March or so. Along with finishing book two, I plan on getting book three underway or working on my master’s thesis project (which is a novel also but not in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series though it is still laced with fantasy). Maybe even both. I haven’t tried to tackle juggling two projects at once in a while, but hopefully, I’ll manage. Continue reading

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