Post MA Inspiration

When I look up at the date of my last entry I cannot believe those many months have gone by. Nay, not only months, but entire seasons.

Summer of 2012 had me completing my portfolio and thesis––defending the relevance and use of landscape in fiction. Tip #1, for any undergrads or MA students reading this–– start practicing the art of footnotes now. The bindery in Lancaster did not accept email word docs. Ever try to find A4 paper in your local, non-UK stationary shop? While most Canadian and US universities use the standard 8 ½ x 11, The International Standards Organization of professional presentation is 8.27 x 11.69. Of course, I knew this from being on campus the year before. Needless to say, I could have saved myself a lot of aggro by ordering the paper months in advance.

Paper received, thesis printed, mailed (80$ to the UK), well in advance of due date. Tip #2––work ahead of schedule whenever you can.

I am proud to say that I have earned my MA in creative writing. Finishing was bittersweet, and to extend writerly classmate relationships, we’ve started our own Facebook page. Alex O’Toole is also creating a site where we can continue to critique our work, offer tips on writing competitions etc., and generally inspire and prod each other. After all, as the man said, ‘the hardest thing about writing, is to keep doing it.’

Dissertation safely in the hands of the lovely Elizabethan-era printing press, I set out on holiday. First stop, visiting farming friends in Saskatchewan and walking the land. On an old homestead I visit now and then, there are seven sloughs where once there had been only two, and I wondered about the topsoil that had washed away despite eco-friendly farming practices. My thoughts on farming will appear in a longer piece down the road.

It rained while we were there, and after taking some photographs of houses falling back into the earth, we pushed back the seats of the rental car and let the wind through the grass and green wheat lull us to sleep.

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Next up was a trip to Boston and Concord Massachusetts. Concord was the home of Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Ralph Waldo Emerson, and is of course the home of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I signed the guestbook in his cabin, dipped my feet in the waters of his pond, and also visited the house where transcendentalism began.

Thoreau lived and wrote in a 10 x 12 cabin, often hosting as many people who could stand and spill out of its space. In the humidity that dragged on that afternoon, I could understand a need to escape to the woods.

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The grave sites, as you can see, are places where pencils, coins, and notes of thanks are deposited.

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The autumnal Vancouver Writers’ Festival never disappoints, and the highlights were hearing–– as The Guardian put it–– the ‘mesmerizing,’ Junot Díaz, my constant bench mark Alistair MacLeod, and the inspiring Kate Mosse. In the 30 seconds you are allotted at a signing, I nervously asked Mr. Díaz if he was taking PhD students, and blubbered something to Mr. MacLeod. Student writers are such devoted fans.

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Kate Mosse related the events of an historical evening from which the Orange Prize sprang, and shortly after that presentation, it was announced that Canada would be initiating a women’s prize for writing. I have read all of the pros and cons, so please do not reply with your thoughts on the prize. Suffice to say, I was not the only one surprised by the meticulously gathered stats on who gets read, reviewed, and wins prizes in this country.

In December, I watched my grad via livestream, and by all accounts did not miss anything for not attending in person.

I have finished up a freelance assignment, worked on two short pieces I hope to submit soon, and sadly managed only a few walks in my mountain forest. Within a few weeks, I hope to begin facilitating an adult writing course for those who are looking for a productive and supportive place to explore the writing process.

One of the requirements of the MA was to try and figure out who you are as a writer. I have discovered that I need to stay focused on the big work, and, therefore, have spent almost all of my post-MA time going over the entire manuscript/ novel-in-progress, one leaf at a time.

There is a lot of pressure to publish once you finish a body of work, the urge to just get the thing out there, but I am trying not be rushed. In his Paris Review article, ‘The Art of Criticism No. 4’, John Simon, said, ‘I have to feel satisfied that I have met the challenge of this piece of work, whatever that is.’ These words emphasize my own need to slow down and get it right.

Last, but not least, this has also been a time to catch up on some reading. I highly recommend Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her and MacLeod’s ‘Remembrance’, Anakana Schofield’s, Malarky (this took her 10 years to complete, and she not only writes beautifully, but also knows how to present her work––we’ve all been to great authors’ inaudible and inanimate readings), Erin Morgenstern’s, The Night Circus, and I am still trying to absorb the disturbingly amazing work of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s, The Shadow of the Wind.

The man also said ‘all writers have to go it alone eventually,’ and so my last bit of post-grad advice ––

Take your inspiration where you can find it.

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