Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What I Love About Graduate School

I never thought I'd see myself writing those words. My first go around with graduate school, ending in a PhD, was not exactly something I loved. It was a painful process with a lot of angst. When it was all over, I was convinced someone would show up one morning on my doorstep demanding my diploma back. It took a year to figure out they were actually going to let me keep it. How relieved I was. But I wasn't relieved enough to ever think I'd set foot within the ivory tower again.

Age heals all wounds. Here I am, back in the graduate school saddle again. And this time around, I'm really loving a lot more of it. Honest. 

Don't get me wrong, there is definitely pain involved with all of this learning to write. I mean, I could seriously do without the sick feeling deadlines stir up in the pit of my stomach when there is that "other life" of mine (kids, house, husband, dog, school visits, conferences, etc, etc, etc) jockeying for time and attention or the brain ache I get from trying to come up with new ideas for critical papers.

There's a big difference, though, that makes this whole go at grad school different. Feedback. I got plenty of feedback the first time around, but grades were the be all and end all of the program. I had to keep them up to keep my scholarships. This time, no real grades. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance philosophy to teaching prevails. Add to that, feedback. Writing is such a lonely world. Doing an MFA in writing makes that world infinitely less lonely and less confusing.

I've sent off enough manuscripts to have compiled a select and diverse collection of treasured rejection letters ranging from "it's not right for our list" to "I was confused." There are the acceptance letters in there, too, which is fantabulously awesome, but it's the rejections that get under my skin. It's not only because my work was rejected. That stings, of course. But actually, it's because I don't understand exactly why. Unfortunately, the publishing world is an incredibly busy place and if editors write you anything personal, it's a boon. Deciphering it, however, is an art unto itself. Bottom line, however, it's not working.

In grad school, I get the why behind "it's not working". I really really appreciate that. I'll do anything-probably because of all of the past rejection letters and the burning desire to minimize those and maximize the acceptance ones-to make a piece better. If my advisor says, X isn't working, I'm thrilled. Sure, I have an emotional response to not having gotten it right, but all of those rejection letters have taught me to value the explanation that follows the critique. I spend the entire next packet figuring out how to make X work, or throwing it out and going for something new. I sometimes wonder if there wouldn't be more published authors if the game of writing and publishing allowed for more in-depth comments in rejection letters.

In the end, I guess it's about finding my own path, but I am thrilled I have a guide for this portion of the journey. I feel like I might actually make it.


kaye said...

loved your musings today--good luck.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

The feedback IS everything, you are so right. I've found it takes a certain type of person to both read well and articulate what's happening (or not) in my writing.

Keri Mikulski said...

Great stuff, Stacy!! :) Sounds amazing.