Learning Lee Ann MFA

4,500 words

January 17, 2023

When I wake up, I think about 4,500 words. When I am working out. When I am watching TV. When I am eating a meal, which is usually contemporaneous with watching TV. They don’t write themselves, you know.

As the week goes on, I add up the cumulative number of words written. Am I ahead? Behind? Right on schedule? Because on Saturday, I have to upload 4,500 words to my Drexel MFA professor.

And it’s only week two of the quarter. Welcome to Novel Writing Intensive, one of the two electives I am taking this Winter Quarter at Drexel. The other elective is Query Writing Intensive; although that instructor is also demanding and professionally intimidating, I don’t have to present the query for my novel for several weeks.

As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I still respond to deadlines. So I chose this class because it forces me to write. Otherwise, I would putz around and write a few words here and there, call myself a writer, and drink a glass of Zinfandel. As of this morning I have written 27,000 words of my novel, which is tentatively titled “The Salt and Light Express.” (You have to say “tentative;” every paragraph, line and word and comma are tentative.) That is about 108 pages double-spaced. The bulk of those words flowed after I knew I would be taking Novel-Writing Intensive, so I would have them deposited in the Brandi Bank (Brandi, or Dr. G., is the professor.)

Yes, there’s a plot. There is a theme. There are characters I think about every waking moment. There is a seven-page blueprint of scenes that enables me to jump in anywhere and write. But without the pressure of 4,500 words a week, about 18 double-spaced pages, this story would not be taking shape. And the more it takes shape, the more I want to write just to tell the story. Forget about the 4,500 words. Well, almost.

I last posted on September 6, before I started the program. A lot has happened. We had a residency for our cohort up in Philly, and we bonded and became a tight-knit bunch. It got intense. We workshopped each other’s stories. I learned the hard way that just because the people who love you think you are a great writer, you are not. Yet.

So I will try to do a better job of keeping up, because I believe it might be helpful to someone out there who is thinking about trying something new, no matter what their age. I am bullish on this particular program at Drexel because there is a healthy yin and yang between the craft of writing and the business of writing. I now realize how little I knew about either. Also, I hereby commit to posting on a more regular basis because I need to be writing something besides a novel – even if virtually no one reads this blog. Once I get past the 4,500-words class, I hope to write a short story or two and exercise different creative-writing muscles.

It’s Tuesday, and I have written 1,478 words so far this week. Opening the Scrivener app in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.

Feature photo: We were taking the subway to Harriet’s Bookshop during our residency. See how young they look? Below, the entire Class of 2024.

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