Even before tuition is due for my first semester with Converse College, I was given my first assignment for my low-residency MFA program. I am to submit a writing sample that will be critiqued by seven other students. These peers along with a couple of instructors will spend an hour discussing my work during the residency. The writing sample itself is not homework. I am not expected to produce 25 pages of new material, but instead I am to select a piece I’ve written previously. The real work is that I’m responsible for reading seven other manuscripts, writing critiques on each, and preparing opinions in order to discuss them in a few short weeks.
I attacked this first assignment with vigor. I set aside my recently purchased Kindle and the one book in its que, I let the protagonist of my current thriller in progress, Detective Lou Knabe, sit ignored with some newly revealed evidence, and I began to reread pages of my own past writings in search of my sample to submit for review. This was truly an encouraging experience. As I read chapters of my work written months and sometimes a year before I found I connected with my voice; I got my own characters, and when I came to the end of a chapter, I wanted to read on.
Okay, so I have healthy self-esteem. And yes, this is why I need readers and editors, and why I must tell myself constantly to heed others’ advice. But I would much rather feel good about my work in hindsight than feel like hiding my eyes when reading past efforts. Had I gone back far enough in my journey as a writer, I would have certainly found some paragraphs that could make me cringe and possibly wretch. But at least in the most recent past and with the sample I chose to send, I feel confident that I have some chops. And in the end, regardless of the opinion of my future classmates, I know I have one reader that is happy about where my writing has come… Me.