Sunday, September 14, 2008

Writing New York

A Writer Takes on Grad School and New York City… and Lives To Tell About It

Deonne Kahler


Last week I workshopped my first story in fiction class. The night before, I had gone out with a couple classmates and one said, “I really like your story, but now that I’m getting to know you I need to be nicer with my comments.”

I figured that probably didn’t bode well.

Professor Weir had warned us that at least in his class, we’d never hear that our story is ready to go. He’d never say, “Deonne! Your story could not be made one inch better; in fact I’m shocked that you even bothered to apply for an MFA. In gratitude for writing a perfect story, please accept this publishing contract, box of See’s nuts and chews, and a puppy. Now get outta’ here and write the Great American Novel, you crazy talented person!”

His point being that even if you’re Amy Hempel, you still need to revise, revise, and then revise some more. That young writers tend to think a story is well done, when in fact it’s still on the south side of rare.

Here’s what I heard last week: a few people loved my story. (Hurray!) Most people had useful suggestions, pointing out trouble spots and how I could improve them. The story’s ending got opposite reactions: one person thought it was terrific, another thought it was hokey. Ouch. And one person (one of two who didn’t like the story at all) was flat out snarky in his comments. (The snark was only on paper – he kept his verbal comments to a more mature level.)

Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I got some encouragement, some helpful critique, and minimal negative feedback, and all of it got me thinking in concrete ways about how to improve my writing. (In the case of this story, it’s clarifying what the protagonist wants: what’s at stake for her? And then playing that out on the page.)

The next two years are going to be a steep learning curve, which is the point. I didn’t come here to get petted and praised, I came here to learn. I’m sure there’ll come a point when I will get discouraged and doubt my talent, and when that moment comes I wouldn’t say no to kind gestures, although please don’t send a puppy unless you punch holes in the box first.

Deonne Kahler has been a freelance writer for seven years, and decided it was time to move to New York and get her MFA. And really, why not? Contact her at deonne [at] deonnekahler [dot] com, or check out her blog at

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