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Low-Res MFA for Novelists

Low-Res MFA for Novelists

By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

Some fiction writers are born novelists. Your idea-seed blossoms into a full-blown sycamore overnight. No delicate rose bushes for you. Luckily, The Bluegrass Writers Studio low-residency MFA program has a place for folks like you and me.

Say you’ve got a thick stack of manuscript pages tied up in a box (or filed away on Dropbox, or still waiting in the database called your brain). It needs work, and you want readers, you want mentorship. Say you’ve built a rich fantasy world, or your own unique vision of Appalachia or Los Angeles, but you need to find some narrative scaffolding.

Nearly every semester the Bluegrass Writers Studio provides workshop offerings in long-form writing. I’ve taught a year-long novel writing course twice before (and again in Fall 2014), where the only initial requirement is your desire to add flesh to the bones of an idea.

My colleague, Nancy Jensen, just completed a course in full manuscripts, where participants come prepared with a complete draft manuscript ready to be refined into an accomplished novel, memoir, short story collection, or more.

Julie Hensley, another member of our core faculty, has also just completed a year-long progression of workshops in linked short stories (a.k.a. “novels in stories”) for those fictioneers of long-range vision who want to explore alternatives to traditional novelistic structure.

Such offerings are rare among writing programs. You might find MFAs with occasional novel workshops, or individual mentors willing to take you through the process, or programs that allow novels for thesis projects. But a systematic education in novel writing, from brainstorming to polish? A course that explores the variety of novel development methods, from outlining to free writing to taking a leap in the dark? Continuous options, semester after semester, for students who want to carry their full-length projects all the way to the finish line? That’s us. 

The fiction concentrations in MFA programs are often built around small-scale projects, and with good reason. Short exercises or stories of limited scope can be great ways to sharpen your fiction tools without too deep an investment—which is not to say, of course, that fictional brevity is any less an artistic achievement than works on a grander scale. Chekhov and O’Connor can hold their own against Tolstoy and Morrison. But for the specific sake of practice, a succession of shorts can be an excellent growth chart of progress.

In many ways, the Bluegrass Writers Studio is no different. We offer immersive workshops in the short forms of several genres, but for those participants with different ambitions, or those who want to dabble in various genres and forms, we have options. Best of all, we offer our low-residency participants the opportunity to work closely with professional faculty mentors and share the wealth of a supportive community trekking down the same winding road. That combination of benefits is a true rarity.

We won’t pretend that writing a novel is easy.  You’ll need tremendous perseverance and a reliable set of tools (we’ll help you develop the latter and cheer you on to maintain the former). Even those who arrive with that proverbial ream of paper tucked under their arms, the climb is steep. I’ve had plenty of students admit that just a couple weeks of mentoring has caused them to radically rethink their approach and plan extensive rewrites.

But that’s learning, right? Good realizations come with a determined grin and a renewed sense of purpose, and that’s what it’s all about. If you’d like to know more about our program and our courses, please feel free to contact us here.

Contact Information

Kristen Thompson

Published on February 03, 2014

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