Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advice for the One's

It's that time again.  Time for the newbs to descend on Seton Hill University and leap into the Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program.  As I've been teaching in the program for many years (almost since the beginning), I feel like I have the responsibility (and possibly the right) to throw a little advice around.  I speak only for myself as a mentor, not for everyone else in the program, but here are a few tidbits that I feel everyone needs to know.

  • Be Nice to Everyone - You don't know who you're talking to.  Let me say that again.  You don't know who you're talking to.  The person in your crit circle might have a day-job working as an acquisitions editor, or a critic, or might already be an author with more than 30 books under his or her belt.  Hell, one of them might be married to a major Hollywood producer (she knows who I'm talking about).  The writing community is notoriously small, and we have wickedly long memories.  
  • Check the Ego at the Door - When you show up, you may have a lot of notions about being a stand-out, or how good your work is, or a thousand other things.  Criticism is coming, and it won't always be gentle.  Here's the deal:  You're not as good as you think you are.  The good news is, you're also not as bad as you think you are.  You're here to learn.  Your mistakes as well as the mistakes of others will teach you loads, but you need to be open to criticism and realize the fundamental truth:  Nothing said in crit is meant to be taken personally.  Everything said in crit, and everything said by your mentor, is said for the sole purpose of making you better.  If you have trouble listening to what works, what doesn't, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and how to improve, you won't grow as a writer.  Which begs the question:  if you're in this program, but can't take criticism, what are you doing in the program?
  • Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation - As you are coming into a Masters program in English, it seems kind of like a no-brainer that you should have a grasp of mechanics.  Having said that, I realize that not everyone has the extensive background in English, and a large (and growing) group actually don't come from an English background.  That's fine and dandy, but it's now up to you to play catch-up.  This is an incredibly competitive path, and you want to be able to put your best foot forward. To wit, our jobs in the program are to help you have the best possible chance of getting your thesis published.  Agents, editors, publishers, etc. all get hundreds, if not more, manuscripts in their mailboxes every day.  To get through the monumental amount of mail, they have to look for any reason whatsoever to toss your manuscript in the trash.  Comma splice?  Gone.  Run-ons and fragments used improperly?  See ya.  And what we, as mentors, need to focus on  are issues like characterization, plot structure, world-building, and other things that you need to know if you're going to be a writer.  Making your mentor line-edit your manuscripts is just rude. Take the initiative and work on your mechanics so that you and your mentor and critique partners can focus on shaping your story. 
  • The Mentors Aren't Gods  - I know how a lot of us come across.  I, for one, can come across as a grade-A jackass over e-mail.  Many of us come across as egomaniacal monsters that get our jollies off of destroying the hopes and dreams of students.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The fact is, if you take the time to get to know us, you'll realize that we're not.  We're passionate about writing.  We're passionate about our genres, and we're passionate about helping you become better writers.  Most of the time, critiques tend to focus on what's wrong with a manuscript, or on what doesn't work, and that can lead to the feeling that the mentor hates the student or can create animosity.  For the most part, the truth is that we focus on what needs improvement, and thats because we want you to succeed.  Read that last part again:  We want you to succeed.  So look at what we're trying to tell you, and realize that nothing said is a personal attack.  It's all done to point out weaknesses for you to repair. 
  • Avoid the Dining Hall - Seriously.  It's awful.  Taco Bell is right by the hotels. 
  • Socialize with EVERYONE - Don't segregate yourself by your class.  One's, go grab yourself a couple of fives (not literally... They're skittish), some fours, a three and a two, and talk to them.  Have a drink with them.  If you happen to see a mentor or two at the social, chat 'em up!   It really does make your life easier. 
  • Be Prepared - Read the assignments, crit pieces, etc. before the crit session.  You want your classmates to be respectful of your work, so be respectful of theirs too.  
  • Your Time - This is likely the only time many of you will have in which you get this kind of feedback.  This is likely the only time many of you will have for such honesty, such hard work, and so many people who only want you to succeed.  You will be able to talk to agents, editors, authors and publishers.  Do you realize how rare that is?  Take advantage of your time here.  Make the best out of it.  
  • Greensburg - Is a maze.  You will get lost.  Deal with it.  Half the fun of being at residency is trying new things and trying to figure out where the hell you are.  
  • Wendy Lynn - Do not piss this woman off.  She is royalty in the program, and usually is the one who knows what's really going on.  

No comments:

Post a Comment