For Absolute Beginners
By Rebecca DeSensi Sivori, Alumna, Bluegrass Writers Studio '12
Unlike many of my BGWS peers, I did not begin the MFA program with any previous workshop experience. My undergrad work was in broadcast journalism, my first masters degree was in counseling and student affairs. One day I picked up a yellow lined notebook and a pen and started writing. Several notebooks later I decided to apply to an MFA program, wondering if they’d take me. I was told to submit a short story prior to my first residency. A what? I was told to critique the work of my peers prior to the residency. Like, how? I did not feel I was in the position to ask questions or admit that I had no clue what I was doing. I did not want them to regret their decision to accept me.
I am a reader. A reader of all sorts of things. And so I submitted something I thought I would like to read and I showed up at the Hilton with my critiqued essays and I met a new friend in the hallway outside our classroom door. “Your story was really good,” she told me. “I could totally relate to it.” Wow, I thought. I am going to rock this thing! Then Derek Nikitas appeared, in his page boy hat with his shy eyes, diverted sometimes toward the long conference table in the hotel suite that we called a classroom. And I realized I was an idiot. I took pages and pages of notes listening to Derek speak that first afternoon, at each pause realizing that all the things he said not to do were things that I’d done in my first story. It wasn’t until the third day of the residency that my story was workshopped. And I cringed. And I was embarrassed at all the things I was doing wrong. And I had no clue we were going to sit around the table and dissect the story like this. Thankfully, Derek did not tell me I was an idiot. I took every piece of advice, and all the knowledge gained over that first winter residency, and I used it. When I submitted my second story Derek said, “It’s like a different person wrote this.” And I was just that, a different person.
So it’s ok if you come to this residency for the first time and you aren’t an award-winning novelist or have a lengthy list of publications behind your name. Come to learn. Ask lots of questions if you just don’t have a clue. Get comfortable. And grow.
Published on December 31, 2013