Wednesday night, Writers Community hosted a panel featuring the Creative Writing faculty of Ball State. The panel included professors Mark Neely, Cathy Day, Jill Christman, Matt Mullins, and Sean Lovelace, and was designed to offer students the opportunity to tap into the professors’ intimate knowledge of the world of creative writing.
This was my experience.
As a senior Creative Writing major, I found this event incredibly insightful. As a fall 2011 MFA program hopeful, it couldn’t have come at a better time. While I have always found my professors here in the English Department more than willing to discuss creative writing areas such as publishing, reading and writing habits, and graduate schools, I haven’t always felt comfortable approaching them. It has more to do with my own personal feelings, thinking that they have more important things to do and that I’m cutting into their valuable personal time. If they stopped to talk to every student with a question maybe they wouldn’t have any time for their own life. They might miss out on picking their kids up from school and maybe the kids grow resentful. Before you know it, I’m responsible for Sally or Eddy jumping on a ship to Guam because they think their parents don’t love them. Then these professors I’ve bothered have to see their children on CNN, seven years later, fighting off plagues of cane toads and wildfires. Yes, these professors are probably glad their kids grew up heroes, but I’m sure all those holidays were so, so lonely. And their dogs just don’t wear the sweaters as well. Like I said, it isn’t the professors that keep me from asking them questions. It’s me. This panel proved remarkable in the way it answered every question that has been bothering me in a comfortable, inviting environment.
All the professors shared great wisdom concerning the publishing world, why they write, how they write, and most helpful to me at this point in my academic career, the skinny on MFA programs. I plan to graduate in May and attend grad school the following fall, which means right now I’m shopping for grad schools and need to be applying soon. The whole process feels intimidating. I’ve even been fortunate enough to have great help, but it was invaluable to hear advice from those who have done it themselves. One gold nugget I recorded was, “Go to grad school to polish your manuscript, not generate one.” That added a whole new angle on the subject for me.
The panel’s discussion on the world of publishing was of great personal help as well. As someone who is submitting to literary journals, it’s another process that appears as a walloping shadow, some nigh invisible force with a spooky disposition. At least at first. You get used to the process, like anything, but the faculty shared some personal stories that made a young writer like me, impatience and paranoia abound, feel okay about my present lack of publications. At one point, Professor Mark Neely stated, “I once received an acceptance from a publication two years after I submitted. I had forgotten I even submitted.” One basic message, it seemed, was to just roll with things; keep trying and don’t take things personal. I remember hearing a story about James Lee Burke who had a short story rejected over a hundred times, and after he was already a successful novelist. When someone finally picked up that story, it won a Pulitzer. It’s an anecdote that has always helped me, but I realized I had forgotten about it until the panel. It’s a constructive story to remember, as is Neely’s.
The Writers Community has been pretty outstanding with its events already this year, and there are still more to come. I’ve been saying this looks to be an exciting year for English at BSU, and I mean it. The panel exceeded my already high expectations, as did the Bloof Books 2010 Tour reading, and I know the rest of the events planned will too (for a list of these events, check out our interview with Tyler Gobble, president of Writer’s Community).
I’ve grown to love these events for how fun and helpful they’ve been. In high school, I really didn’t care to be involved with anything related to my school. College began the same way, but halfway through my sophomore year here at BSU, I started paying attention to what the English Department was doing. They’ve done amazing things, like allowing me the opportunity to not only be in the same room with a personal hero, but actually ask him questions about his art (Harvey Pekar, R.I.P.). Until I started paying attention to what the English Department was doing, I’ve never felt personally rewarded by an educational institution. Now I feel as if my college experience would have paled in comparison if I had attended any other university, and I might not even have the same goals I now hold so dear.
If anyone reading this is unsure whether or not to take an active interest in things like Writers Community, the class that produces The Broken Plate, or the readings and other events the department, I would say just go for it. Coming to BSU, I never expected to find a community. I didn’t expect to be filled with new passion for my chosen career path or that it would introduce me to a vast number of options I previously knew nothing about.
Yeah, it might sound corny, but the English Department slipped these magic high-tops on me when I wasn’t looking, and when I pump those purple buttons on the tongues they just explode with ghostly, divine energy. Not only do they zap multiple innocent bystanders but they fill me with great purpose. I never thought college would give me real direction or focus. Now, having direction feels pretty good.
Keep reading and watching, BSU.