Let’s get NaSSty

As my readers will remember, I am a member of a Facebook group called MFA Draft ’11. There are now more than 300 members, all folks who’ve applied to and are now awaiting responses from MFA programs in creative writing. It’s quite a community. Some are loud, some shy, some are nervous wrecks and others ebullient jesters. One thing I’ve noticed in the last few weeks is that—though I consider myself rather thick-skinned and resilient, able to withstand the vicissitudes of this public waiting-game—my tendency is to join the chorus of online revelers. So much so, in fact, that my own writing discipline has suffered.

Thus, a couple days ago, I proposed to the group that we start a National Short Story Writing Month. Drawing inspiration from the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I proposed that we all commit to writing a story a day. Poets and graphic novelists and memoirists and essayists invited as well: if they are members of the MFA Draft ’11 Facebook group, they were welcome to submit in whatever form they practice. Not only will it keep my writing discipline, but it will have the added benefit of keeping me from too much hand-wringing during the long months of February and March as we wait for acceptances from grad programs…

A consensus quickly emerged on the rules. No word limit. Writers would announce their start and finish dates, and it would have to span an entire month (rather than designating an arbitrary calendar month, which impinged on many schedules). The pieces would be posted to a private blog, visible only to us, the contributors. Therefore the pieces are private and remain unpublished, eligible for later publication.

I can’t share with you the link,due to the privacy issues, but let me just say that so far it’s been wild: eight of us initially signed on, and I spent all afternoon on Friday adding folks to the author/contributor list on the blog. My fellow writer, blog-nerd, and MFA Draft ’11 compatriot Kat Lewin has jumped in to help me with the sudden burden—however joyful—of maintaining a new site.

The thing is still in a tectonic stage, solidifying and taking shape, but so far we have twenty-five authors, twenty-two stories or poems, and its only day three for most people. I’m glad too that people have taken ownership of it as well as they have, because I honestly do not want to have control over this. I am a creator, I enjoy bringing people together, but I have no intention of managing this long-term. I see it as more of a self-sustaining cooperative blog, with folks like me and Kat who have a little know-how helping iron things out as needed.

I did offer an inspirational anecdote that my father once told me and which I’ll share with you now (Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sure the details are probably polished down to smooth nubs and altered with time and repetition, but the moral is the same, so leave it be):

For her final exam, a high school ceramics teacher divided her class into two groups: quantity and quality. The quantity group had to, as a group, produce 40 pieces to get their A, 30 for a B, and so forth. The quality group, as a group, had to produce only one single piece of art; but to get the A it had to be both perfectly executed and completely original. They went to work, and at the end of the term the quantity group had their A. The quality group, which had laboriously researched and planned and sketched their idea, only got a B.

But here’s the kicker: overall, the quantity group had more A-worthy pieces than not. Because while the “quality” group was sitting around theorizing about perfection, the “quantity” group was getting practice, making mistakes, learning, becoming more confident, and improving. Rapidly.

So I’ve been sitting here on this blog, wringing my hands about a story that just won’t come out. And I wanted to do something about it. So starting today (I couldn’t start on the 18th with everyone else; I was busy much of the weekend, helping set up the new site and also running errands and spending the day in Seattle yesterday), I’ve posted my first piece, based on my dream-sketch “Baby in a Hole.” It’s just a first draft, and so goes with all the usual disclaimers to those who may read it. And I’m sorry—the bulk of you will not be able to read it right away, for the aforementioned privacy and rights issues. I may post an excerpt here later, perhaps on the same page as the dream sketch.

Tomorrow is President’s Day, I have the day off (I’ve just discovered), and so I’ll write another new piece. And so on, from now until March 20. Some pieces I will post excerpts of here. And so keep checking in, and keep reading. And maybe one day soon you will be able to go to your local independent bookseller and purchase and read the stories in their revised completion.

Thanks for reading, and good luck to those of you fellow MFA Drafters who are reading this and participating in NaSStyWriMo—now it’s off the races!

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  1. Zak, I think this is such a good idea. A friend of mine always says to me: “Worrying isn’t actually DOING something,” and I think you’ve found a way to turn trepidation into productivity in a totally awesome, community-based way. If I were suffering along with you and all the other MFA applicants, I would definitely take part.

    Come to Brown! (I know, I know…you’re doing your best :))

    • Thanks Katie!! I really appreciate that. Yeah, we’ll see what happens. I’m getting some great feedback from my peers in this group about the sample I submitted—it’s a solid story (City of Destiny, I mean)—but it’s all in the hands of the good admissions folk. Unless you happen to thumbtack copies of my writing on the office door of Brian Evenson and leave him encouraging yet subtle hints with my name on them, it’ll be a long shot…

      Crossing my fingers for Brown or any of the other twelve remaining programs. I know I’m good enough. Just hope they like what they see! Meantime … writing away!

  2. YES! I love that you started the blog project! I’ve written twenty more pages of fiction this weekend than I have since, gosh, the end of MFA application season. We basically all owe you splits of the inevitable Nobel prize money that’s going to be earned from these NaSSty projects.

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