‘Get hammered, write better…’

And other quotes from my first year in an MFA program.

james-figy-mfa

Paper: “First day of [grad] school! When I grow up, I [still] want to be an astronaut.”

While working to survive the first year of grad school, I scribbled down some notable quotables in class, at events, wherever. Some good ones popped up as I recently flipped through my notes.

The notebooks held a professor’s joke: “‘Get hammered, write better.’ We’re all going to get tattoos that say that.” (At least, I think it was a joke.) They had visiting writer Susan Power’s twist on the write-what-you-know axiom: “When I write what I need to know, need to feel, need to experience, I step outside myself.”

Here’s a smattering of others.

1. Susan Power’s craft talk

“There’s this myth that the writer sits down and they type, ‘Chapter One,’ and the piece just rolls on forward.” Later, she added: “For me to get to my best work, I have to be feeling something. It’s not purely intellectual for me.”

2. Literary editing and publishing

On the origins of literary magazines: “They’re always born in some passion, but often born with some grievance. … You have to have passion because there’s no money in it.”

3. Fall fiction workshop

On how setting shapes character: “Where we are is who we are.”

4. Form and technique in fiction

On chasing an idea: “Let go of worrying whether it’s stupid or not because that’s not what artists do.”

5. Contemporary prose

On mainstream/genre versus literary fiction: “Some of this [tension] I think is between our emotional response and our intellectual response.”

6. Steph Burt’s craft talk

On “talking object” poems: “Poetry can give you things the world doesn’t have for you.”

7. Spring fiction workshop

“If there’s not trouble ahead in a story, I’m probably not interested.”

8. Professor’s research presentation

Writer’s comments on own short story: “I’m like the lovechild of Walt Whitman and Don DeLillo.”

9. Form and technique in fiction (again)

Why writers can’t be lazy: “We are in competition, as storytellers, with ten million screens.”

10. Contemporary prose (again)

Why writers, especially in MFA programs, must care about more than craft: “Isn’t that the importance of indulging your rebellion—that you have something to say?”

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