I graduate this January. That is, if I finish my craft paper.
I thought it would be easy. A short academic piece, somewhere in the ball park of eight pages. Heck, I've written novel drafts. I've written longer stories. I've turned in a 109 page thesis, a collection of stories. Certainly, I can knock off a craft essay in a few weeks.
Yeah...well...no. What's that old quote? Pride comes before a fall? It took me awhile to pin down my topic, to really focus. My interests have varied during my time at Queens. At one point, I thought I'd discuss flash fiction and prose poetry. Another time, I was on a how-to-write-flashbacks-without-making-it-backstory kick. Finally, at the May residency I decided on linked short story collections. I read (or re-read) a whole stack of them this summer. Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, Winesburg, Ohio, The Beggar Maid, Love Medicine...but then what? What is it that I wanted to say about linked collections?
Then Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her came out this September...and back to reading I went.
What helped me to focus on a topic was to peruse published craft essays. One of my favorite's is Wendi Berry's Evil Women Characters - How Writing Them Tempts the Reader to Feel Oh-So-Good in the most recent issue of Prime Number Magazine (disclaimer: Berry is a Queens grad). For non-fiction writers, issue 11 features an essay by Michael Steinberg, The Person to Whom Things Happened: Finding the Inner Story in Personal Narratives. I highly recommend taking a look at a few examples if you're working on a craft paper either for your program or for an MFA program application. Feel free to leave recommendations for other literary magazines that publish craft essays. (((update: Check out Brevity for an archive of craft essays: http://brevitymag.com/category/craft-essays/)))
As the weeks close in, I begin to wonder if my reluctance to finish this paper coincides with my reluctance to finish the MFA program. In less than two months, I won't have deadlines for workshops or thesis advisors offering thoughtful critique. It'll be up to me to keep writing. The advantage, I have discovered, of a low-residency program is that I don't have to quit my day job to do all of this. The disadvantage, I have also discovered, is I don't have to quit my day job to do all of this. I work full-time, come home, read, and write...draft five of the craft paper. I'm tired. I love it.