Top 5 Things I Learned in Graduate School

Part two of a two-part series. Here we go!

5. Routine is really, really important. 
I’m still learning this one, and it’s really difficult. But a lot of what I did over the school year was get my homework done the night before or the hours before class, and turn in a story that I had just barely written. That’s not that good of a plan, really, so I started figuring out a way to better myself and my craft.

Enter The Artist’s Way, and also, sheer determination to be able to beat my mom in an arm wrestle. (She’s 54 and the strongest woman alive, probably. Don’t mess with her, or me, or my brothers, is what I’m saying.)

What I do now is wake up and immediately free-write three pages. It doesn’t have to be good; in fact, usually it’s shit. But the point is to do something called “throat-clearing”. You basically hack up all over the page, and your inner monologue can tear it apart into teeny tiny pieces (Anxiety Voice: The way you’re writing about how constipated you were is really dumb, thank god no one will read this because you’re a terrible writer, blah, blah blah…), and by the time you’re finished, your inner critic is so exhausted that when you get to your serious writing, it has nothing to say. That means you don’t second guess yourself, and your writing ends up better.

Also, working out. That’s something I do at least five days a week because I have to. If I don’t, I find myself not able to do anything else. Even if it’s not at the same time everyday, it’s important for me to have the routine of sweating and looking like yucky Gollum because it also helps clear out my brain. All which helps me with schoolwork and my writing.

Me, about to write the next best memoir.

 

4. You need to woo and bed revision like your life depends on it, because it kind of does.

I kind of hate revising my work. In college, I figured that “revision” meant going through and changing the wording of one sentence or editing for comma errors or tearing my papers into pieces and making it rain essays on Nietzsche’s theory of punishment.

But that’s not what revision is at all. Especially if you want your writing to improve. Revision is agonizing over a paragraph that you know isn’t right yet. It’s going back and forth between five words because you can’t decide which word sounds best. It’s scrapping all but a paragraph of a story and starting over. Revision is ugly. It’s like that time you cut your hair at three in the morning when you were sleep-deprived and it looked awful in the morning but in a couple of weeks it actually looked pretty freaking awesome.

Am I the only one who has done that? Oops.

3. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to be better.

A LOT of the people at my program write way better than I do. Their prose floats off the page like a fucking butterfly, and mine stumbles like a drunken bro at his 30th birthday party when he’s pretending he’s still in college. Some of them write so well it literally makes me question how I got into my program. In fact, most of them write better than I do, I think, and it’s a struggle not to compare myself. But working with them has taught me how to evolve faster. It’s also taught me to get my head out of my ass. Which, as you know, is a difficult thing to teach me.

2. Living in a resort community is really fucking weird.

Where I live, there’s no one in the winter. There are only those of us who attend my school, and like, five townspeople who run the businesses we frequent. It makes the world seem like an incredibly small space, and also can get quite boring unless you know how to make it fun. (Cakes. Cakes make everything fun.)

Then, when the summer comes around, the town is flooded with loud rich people who like to flaunt their loudness and richness. Thankfully, I bolted out of there before I had to deal with the Kardashians and their hanger-ons, or the people who rent houses for $500,000 a month, or the people who leave a “summer Mercedes” in storage until they return to their $26 million dollar home that they only use in the summer.

I can’t be around that kind of obnoxiousness. I grew up with a lot of it, and it makes me develop a tic. That tic usually involves me yelling, “WHY!?!?!?!” and crying a lot. So I returned to my hometown where I only yell “WHY?!?!?!” when I see girls wearing leggings as pants, with their snatches on display. Cover that ish up, ladies. No one wants to see it.

1. My Writing is Seriously Getting Better All. The. Time.

At the end of first semester when I read what I wrote to get into the program and in my various classes, I was so humiliated that I wanted to bury myself in chocolate chips sob for days. Instead, I foraged on. When I read what I wrote at the beginning of spring semester, I noticed that I hadn’t quite broken the patterns of the first.

Then yesterday, I read writing from four and five years ago, and laughed. A lot of what I wrote is unusable. It’s trite. It’s silly. It’s not the kind of writing I see myself doing, and I’m amazed that I’ve grown so much in such a short amount of time.

But what’s weird is, I noticed that the themes in my writing now were still present then. And occasionally, I stumbled upon comedic gold.

I would like to share that piece of gold with you all right now:

I hope people think I’m funny. Because if they don’t, all I have going for my is my boobs and intelligence, and that won’t get me anywhere in life. –Me, in an assignment for an English class, fall of 2010.

Categories:

Humor, Writing

12 Comments

I think boobs and intelligence is a pretty kick-ass combination – you can hit the adversary with intelligence while they are distracted by boobs. And you can make fun of them later, because I think you are funny.

Thank you so much! And really, I think boobs and intelligence are combined a lot more than society would lead us to believe. So I always assume that where there’s intelligence, there’s also boobs.

Ha. hahahaha.

“I grew up with a lot of it, and it makes me develop a tic. That tic usually involves me yelling, “WHY!?!?!?!” and crying a lot.”

Yes, growing up in a super-rich area … I can see how you suffered.
Cry me a river Fauntleroy …

I once had a “friend” tell me that the only reason a guy would want to date me is because of my boobs. But then, he was gay so I’m not sure if his opinion counts. I love your thoughts on the process of writing. Very insightful and you’re bang on the money with a lot of it. When I went to school in England for a year, everyone was talking about taking time for revision at the end of term before exams. I was very confused, thinking, “What, are they going to go through their notes and re-write them?” Then I figured out that in the U.K., ‘revision’ can mean studying. My personal favorite ‘lost in translation’ moment was when a girl knocked on my dorm room door and asked if I had a rubber she could borrow. I was shocked (very young and a virgin) and said “Uh, no, I don’t use those.” She cocked her head at me and said “Really? I use them all the time. Sometimes I think I can’t survive without them.” This went on for some time before I realized when she asked for a rubber, she meant an eraser.

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