When I was in grade school it used to infuriate me no end that, no sooner had I begun the summer holidays, than there would be “Back to school” signs plastered all over the stationary shops and book stores. Now, I am excited to be starting the second semester of my MFA program this evening. It’s all to do with one’s end goal. When I was at school and even when I took a Performers Diploma in Speech and Drama, it was a means to an end; Matric or the tools to become an actor. When I later expanded the Performers Diploma into a BA and now with these graduate studies in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts, it is the process as much as (or even more than) the degree that is important. When I tell people that I am enrolled in this MFA program they wonder if I am considering a change of career. Well, who knows – was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans”? But, really it is just the acquiring of new knowledge and experience that I am finding so exciting.
So, this semester one of my courses is a Memoir Workshop with the focus on narrative nonfiction, or literary journalism. I’ve already blogged about one of the prescribed books, The Night of the Gun by David Carr. I’ve also made a start on Telling True Stories, a nonfiction writers’ guide, and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (an account of Hurricane Katrina). The final book for this course is Dispatches by Michael Herr, dealing with the Vietnam War. I’m working on the first assignment for the workshop, and it takes the form of a commentary like the ones written for Op Ed pages or “My Turn” in Newsweek magazine.
My second course is Editing Style where, we are told, we will “develop a sophisticated understanding of editorial processes. These will help you edit your own work as well as work of others. It will also help bring your own writing to a consistent level of professional competency.” Apart from the required reading there will be three assignments – the first in the style of one of a design magazines like Architectural Digest, the second a movie review and the third a newsletter.
With just one semester behind me I am already beginning to notice that I am more au fait about the writing world: there was a review by David Carr in the New York Times Book Review recently and, last week, one by Francine Prose, who is one of the authors on the Recommended Reading list for Editorial Style. It’s fascinating how one can see knowledge expanding in concentric circles.