It’s official. I’ve graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in writing for children and young adults! It’s been a vigorous and wonderful writing adventure and I’m proud of all that I’ve achieved.
My final residency was glorious (I love this community), stressful (I had to give my own lecture and reading), endlessly inspiring and a fabulous send off into the next stage of my writing life. There’s always more to learn, but I look forward to applying all the tools I now have. The following are a few final tid-bits of writerly advice that I gleaned from my last residency.
Highlights From My Final VCFA Residency:
The Writing Process:
- Writing is messy, magical, hard, and requires a daily leap of faith.
- A novel is a hundred ideas or threads that are all braided together.
- You don’t have to write a perfect sentence every time.
- There is danger in rushing toward the fun bits of our story. Slow down.
- Self congratulatory cleverness can be lethal.
- Several things can be true at once. There are no universal truths when it comes to writing.
- You can’t hide from pain if you want to evoke pain. Sometimes the fear of censorship is really about protecting yourself from being vulnerable.
In Regard to Your Reader:
- Don’t tell your reader everything. Give them 2 + 2, but don’t give them 4. Make them work for it and become involved in the story.
- Tension happens on the page between your characters. Suspense happens between the pages, it’s the interaction of the reader and the book.
- Look for the illusive quality of your work, the weight and felt presences. The ghost within the work that the reader will feel but not articulate.
- Do your character’s choices empower your reader?
- If you were telling your story out loud in front of a group of 10-year-olds, what would you keep and what would you cut? You’d probably cut more than you think.
- Ask yourself what charge every action in your story carries.
- What is the promise whispered to your reader in the first pages? Can/does your story fulfill that promise?
- Every novel starts with a coincidence, after that no other coincidence will be believable!
- At the end of the book we are looking for catharsis, redemption, that “good cleaned out feeling.”
On Writing Picture Books:
- Look for contrasts and opposites when you write a picture book.
- Sometimes we know how a book ends, but it is the HOW that is important. How do we get there is what will bring a kid back for re-reading.
- Animal characters can be easier to access for kids, because they aren’t influenced by gender, race, etc.
- Pack your sentences. Say more with less.
A VCFA residency is full of a thousand musings, genius thoughts, inspirational quotes, and new ways to think about craft! I will dearly miss my bi-yearly residencies. Thank you to all the faculty, students, alumni, administrators, and friends that make this amazing education possible! It’s been a wild and wondrous ride.
Now… to the writing cave!