Friday, August 8, 2008

Determination: Carving Out a Future

A first "normal" Spiral Reverie entry in a good while. Astounding.

So what's the topic this time? More on life, love, or even dare I suggest yet another video game entry? ... Well, no it's not that last one this time - rest easy, dear non-gaming readers who I probably scared off months ago after I stopped updating with any sort of consistency.

This time, it's all about the fine art of putting your foot down and rather than simply talking about doing something with your life, actually doing it. Naturally, at this point, you're ready to start protesting on the grounds of that I'm nothing more than a robot programmed to dance around for your entertainment and sometimes malfunction. But this time-traveling killer robot? He dances no more! (At least, not right this second.)

People love to run their mouths and prattle on about all the things they've convince themselves that they're going to do. I've no doubt come off that way enough myself. (Hah! I bet this guy doesn't even have a book in the works! No, italicized parenthetical text, I'm afraid I actually have been hard at work all this time.) But now? Concrete plans for that thing they call a future have begun to materialize. (Because one more year of living at home is going to be absolutely rough as is - having been living at home for over a year since I finished the last of my undergraduate college classes hasn't been the most wonderful of experiences either, with all the isolation that entails.)

Firstly, I've taken a first stab at a publishing opportunity, in entering the newly-started Raleigh Quarterly's "Teach Steve to Read" contest, a contest they started as a bit of a jab at Steve Jobs for a comment he made earlier this year about nobody reading anymore. I wrote a fairly sardonic, cynical short story, though I felt somewhat constrained by the 600 word limit. As such, I don't feel it's quite up to par compared to what could have been, had I not had to pare it down some to meet the length requirements. But I'll mention it again here if I do manage to win and get it published. Failing that, I'll probably submit something else at some point and see if they'd be interested in publishing any of my other short stories. In general, I really do need to get to writing more short stories once I'm finished with Project 27 Days (Which I'm almost to the home stretch in writing - the air conditioning issues the other week delayed my writing a good bit, so I'm expecting to finish the book by early September at this point now. The horizon draws nearer.) and find more venues for publication online. Every little bit of publishing I can manage would help at this point, in forsaking the pursuit of profit with those. (Though should I get the opportunity down the line amidst my novel writing and publishing, I'd certainly be all for releasing an actual physical short story collection with everything written by then.) In general, I need to start getting some recognition as a writer, and to make it clear to the world in getting my work out there that I am serious about this whole writing stories and reaching people thing.

Why the rush? Grad school, of course. Though I likely have even less chance of success at getting into the program I'm applying to than I do the Raleigh Quarterly contest (Though granted, given that the online magazine's only been going since April, I honestly have no idea how many submissions they're regularly getting already as a new online literary magazine - let alone the kind of quality I'm up against in regards to other submissions. I generally don't like to think of writing in a competitive sense myself, anyway, it's nicer to view all other aspiring writers simply as colleagues, all simply working towards the same goal.) I've set plans in stone to apply to UMass Amherst's Creative Writing MFA program for fiction writers and poets in October. The odds are stacked heavily against me, in their only accepting 20 studies of roughly 500 applicants each year. (It's one of the nation's oldest and best Creative Writing programs, and highly competitive, while it's said to be not quite as difficult to get in as a normal undergrad there, the school being Massachusetts' biggest and best public university. I'm striving for a much higher level school and an extremely tough to get into program, after having spent my five undergrad years at a very different - and ultimately much lower level in many regards - university.) As such, I really have my work cut out for me, and getting some of my work published would no doubt help boost my chances of getting in a bit, with such works a clear indication of how seriously I'm taking these literary aspirations of mine. I've just got to do my best and keep my fingers crossed that I'll be getting ready to pack up and move up north by this time next year. If not, I'll probably lose my mind down here. Living at home again loses its charm after having been home for over a year again, rarely hearing from most of your college friends, and never getting to socialize in real life, with what friends one is still in touch with living and working off in Japan now. The south's never been for me - I need the big shakeup and change in general in life that comes with such a major move in heading off to grad school.

I can't exactly keep all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, either. I still need to gather more information on northern creative writing grad school programs to apply to, while I work on writing and publishing more short stories. After having done a good bit of research though, finding a program that'd suit me anywhere is easier said than done, and working with the resources I've used - including an excellent Creative Writing MFA handbook for prospective grad students (By Tom Kealey, an alumnus of the UMass Amherst program himself.) - UMass Amherst has struck me as where I need to be.

I almost finished an application to Boston University's program earlier this year, but ended up not going through with it. I concluded that I didn't have quite the exact type of writing sample they'd need on the short notice they needed it on hand at the time. Then in reading a letter from the faculty to prospective students, I quickly discovered that applying would've no doubt been a waste of money in my case, as they'd outright cited the sort of story elements I've been working with as nothing they'd want to read. (Stories focusing on dreams and memories, specifically.) I can somewhat understand their feelings on those subjects - I can only imagine how many less-than-spectacular aspiring writers there are out there who think they're doing something brilliant after having their mind blown by one or both of a couple recent Michel Gondry films, while ultimately doing nothing unique or interesting with the concepts, simply feeling that dreams and memories are out there, vague enough concepts to somehow be brilliant literature in simply writing about them. But on the other hand, writing off people's works that use those subjects as parts of the plot seems a bit overly cynical and close-minded. (Not that I have much room to talk when it comes to cynicism.) Basically, what I'm saying is that there's still plenty of genuinely unique and original ways to use these themes - and that not everybody who works with them is necessarily a hack, as writing them off as such strikes me as a bit questionable, personally. (But then, the comment may have just been to note that they're sick of stories like that, and thus to discourage that sort of submission with applications. I can't pretend to know the Boston University Creative Writing faculty's biases and lacks thereof.) Working within the magic realism subgenre as I am with Project 27 Days, subjects like dreams and memories are ripe for appropriate use in the story. And for me, they play an important role in the framing of the narrative.

So ultimately, I've gotta make an impression on the panel of UMass professors evaluating applicants. It's high time I started carving out a concrete future - and that future? It's sure as hell not rushing into becoming a 9-5 wage slave and watching my soul leave my body in a matter of an hour. I'm not cut out for that, and after half a decade studying International Studies, more than anything else, I want to spend those three years in the program at UMass pouring my heart into improving my writing and becoming a writer worth reading. Whether anything happens with my unrequited love situation - as is highly unlikely - or not, I need to get out of here and start accomplishing things as a writer. I'll be turning 25 before I hit grad school either way, and I've wasted enough of my youth as is. Now is the time to take plenty of big risks, put myself out there, and try to really make something of myself before it's too late.

UMass certainly intrigues, as it feels much more like a "real" college than UNCC did, and there'd be a lot to overwhelm myself with in trying to make new friends in an area where i have no connections at all. (UNCC was primarily a commuter college, and most of its on-campus residents still left on the weekends - the campus was relatively isolated in Charlotte, and there was almost nothing to do on weekends. No student comedy groups, no student-run television station, nothing like that. Definitely issues I had with the school.) I'll have to get used to a new area, and carve out my niche of things to see and do for the next 3 years then. There's a lot more going on there, and while they let in most of their undergrad applicants, as I've mentioned I've got extremely daunting odds to face - I need to figure out how to catch their eye and make it into their top 20 so I can go there, but I also need not to focus on it and try too hard and force the writing sample - the writing has to come out and achieve quality naturally, whether I write something new for my application or look to something I've already written when I apply in October.

Their Creative Writing MFA program is an extremely high class and difficult program to get into, and I've actually never succeeded in any sort of competition against great odds - I always fail to stand out or measure up, making it rather stressful to think about. But I need to find a means of doing so and then some - I have a history of standing out with my writing next to people in more "normal" academic veins, as I did all throughout my undergraduate years, but I falter in the face of competition, and probably don't come off as anyone worth reading or noting next to the kinds of quality people tend to submit. (You're probably not going to try to apply for a highly competitive Creative Writing MFA program unless you're confident that you're producing something excellent, after all, no?) Not to mention, there's the individual professors' tastes in the sorts of literature that interest them - the question of the unknown and unidentifiable variables. You'd think they'd likely not just be interested in teaching someone writing the sort of things they'd want to read personally, but someone doing something different, who has a noteworthy personality to their writing or a particular unspecifiable edge that makes their writing crackle, and seem worth instructing to be a part of our generation's literary future. (Which I'm hellbent on making my mark on, simply wanting to write interesting stories that'd make people laugh, cry, think, and simply feel a whole range of emotions.)

I could over-research each of the professors with ease, no doubt, with enough information on them being online to begin with, but I feel like that'd be a cheap and disingenuous way to approach things - I'm not merely looking to go there for the sake of going there. I have high aspirations and a great drive to write, and I just feel, intuitively, from looking into everything there, that it's where I need to go in order to further grow and nurture my abilities as a writer. I'll just have to beat out likely roughly 480+ others who probably feel the same way, haha. As such, it's impossible not to worry some. I just can't let it consume me - I have to do the best I can, and it has to come naturally, seeing as entry's entirely based on your 20-page writing sample. (Which is a weight off my shoulders, since I was worried my having been an International Studies major would disqualify me from a shot at a Creative Writing program. Fortunately, many schools seem to recognize that talented fiction comes from people from all walks of life. I'm not sure whether I'll be attempting the GRE again or not, but given that I've heard the actual software it uses runs in the same eye-damagingly bad resolution that their Power Prep software I installed does, I really don't like to think about it. It's not required, but it can be beneficial, and I need all the help I can get. I'm not sure I'd do well enough for it to be of any benefit though, either. Going by the approach in the Power Prep software, it's a heavily flawed test that largely grades the taker by all sorts of shit that frankly doesn't meaningfully reflect on an individual's intelligence. In th eleast, it's becoming less important in recent years as more and more organizations acknowledge how effectively worthless it is from an academic perspective and measure of an individual. The grad school application process is stressful enough in its high level of competitivity without that test.)

Looking forward to the future too, it's probably high time I worked on some renovations to this blog too, maybe see if I can put together an image logo for the title (Though I have little skill left in Photoshop these days, so making one that'd look decent and mesh with the rest of it'd be a challenge. Visual design is in no way my forte.), and while I like this gray-oriented color scheme, I know it's not exactly a popular look. I'm not very good at visual design and color combinations, so I need to come up with some color combination changes to make this place more visually appealing to readers as this blog gradually wakes from its slumber.

I'm not exactly interested in changing it to anything bright and hugely colorful, but I don't want it to be fiercely dark either - just something comfortable and neutral, if that makes sense. Anyway, to any readers or passers-by reading this, if you've got any suggestions on that front (Or as to how I can improve this thing in general), by all means, I'd appreciate the advice if you don't mind taking the time to comment.

That's all for this week. Hopefully this wasn't too dull or disappointing as first entries of this sort in ages go.


Anonymous said...

Hey there,
I must add you write really well was very impressed with your post


Benjamin Fennell said...

Thanks for stopping by. :) I just tend to ramble when I write in here, and I compare my own writing to others' in the negative. As a result, I honestly don't get that much perspective on my writing, whether it's any good, and where my strengths and weaknesses are.

And blogging's generally just a matter of a single-draft stream-of-consciousness spilling of my thoughts through the keyboard onto the internet. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I've got enough going for me with my writing that I'll have a legitimate shot at that grad program.