21st Century Brontë #32 by Brontë Bettencourt
The First Low-Residency Semester
Last May I finished my first semester at Hamline University.
Every month, I submitted a packet of my work to the amazingly talented Phyllis Root. My packets consisted of twenty pages of new material, twenty pages of edited material, ten annotated bibliographies about books on a required reading list, a critical essay where I examine certain themes or writing elements, and a letter addressing my status during this marathon. Sometimes, the personal work changed: in the first month, I wrote forty pages of material, while in the last month I wrote twenty new pages, and two children’s picture books.
During the weekend of a friend’s wedding, I drafted my critical essay. I missed another friend’s birthday party after it was postponed once, because of approaching deadlines. One night I came home to find Sammie and Sally hanging out on the couch, neither of whom I’d seen for weeks.
Sammie lives on the floor below me. Sally is my roommate.
The work load was excruciating. I loved it.
In that work mode, I am tunnel-visioned on my craft. Between reading and writing, I thought of little else. I didn’t see these assignments as work. And I didn’t unwillingly throw myself into this program. I am good enough to be here.
I could do this.
With every submitted packet, Phyllis responded with several pages of positive comments, questions pertaining to worldbuilding, and book recommendations. I would base the following essay on an element of craft that I was unclear on. I’ve written essays on YA and Children’s literature story structure, magic as used by certain authors, and pacing. Anytime I felt exhausted or insecure I reread her letters, because even the critical parts were handled through inquiry, not vicious appraisal. The Facebook group I’m in with my other first semester friends helped, because despite having different mentors, we’re all undergoing the same issues. Every Monday we checked in with what we were writing and what books we were reading.
The semester ended in May. The summer residency began on July 7th. I’ve turned in another piece for the next set of workshops. But here I am, dusting off my blog. I’ve written 100 pages of an Urban Fantasy novel, as well as two picture books. I’ve already finished my second semester with the fantastic Swati Avasthi. I’ve already submitted 40 more pages among other assignments, and I’ve learned graphic novel writing.
In those rare moments of free time, I’ve free-written on and off about another idea, involving Ellie and her family. I shouldn’t want to take breaks from writing if this is my occupation.
I’m never taking a break.
Before my first deadline Phyllis recommended Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. On page seven, Lamott says that as a writer “you are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It’s a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well go ahead and get started.”
My friend Charles asked me if I’ve seen an improvement since starting my first semester.
I think I’ve improved in terms of persistence, faith, and hard work. I would have to sit down and scrutinize an older piece versus a recent one to really see a difference.
I have a better eye on understanding what makes a stronger piece of writing, as well as differentiating my preferences.
If you have any questions regarding the Master’s Program for Writing Literature for Children and Young adults, please let me know in the comments. An update regarding my second semester will come soon.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34, Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. She’s currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University. When she’s not writing or working she’s a full time D&D enthusiast and YouTube connoisseur.