Karolyn Sherwood, Author

My Third MFA

“Thank you, thank you. Thank you all for joining me here in Costa Rica to celebrate the completion of my third MFA in Fiction Writing. The past ten weeks have flown by, and it is now time for me to return to Iowa. But, yes, I’d be happy to say a few words about my experiences.

“I remember, oh so many years ago, I believe it was 2007; yes, I was 45 at the time. I bought myself my first MacBook, in fact the one I still use today. Oh, those were wild times, only one son left in high school, the rest all in college, and boy did I feel free. Take one hour a day, I told myself, to sit still and begin working on my first novel, Any Day Now. Eighteen months later, I sent my masterwork off to agents, only to discover, “I had no hook.” But I didn’t care what they said, I had just completed
My First MFA.

“In those 18 months, I learned how to sit still. I learned how to write dialogue. I learned about voice and the arc of a plot. Any Day Now was undoubtedly naive and autobiographical (I’m sure it will be requested for publication once I’m famous), but it was good practice. It fueled me on to bigger and better things! By the time I put that sweet novel to bed, I was 60 pages into my second book, On A Midnight Street. I was unstoppable, writing almost four hours a day.

“Oh, I knew I still had a lot to learn, so I read Hemingway, Salinger, Highsmith, Wroblewski, DeMille, Brown, Proulx, Wolfe, Franzen, and many more. But most importantly, I bought and read, cover to cover (at least the good parts), The Portable MFA in Creative Writing by the New York Writers Workshop. What a wealth of knowledge! Aha, My Second MFA.

“But this, my friends, My Third MFA, is without a doubt, the most important one of all. In the past ten weeks, while finishing the first draft of my third novel, The King Family, I learned about the business side of creative writing. Let me tell you, it’s intense! Writing is a long, slow, solitary process, but the publishing industry is quite the opposite. Yes, I know, anyone can publish a book these days, but only a few can reach the top; I want The New York Times Bestseller list. That is my holy grail.

“This valuable/invaluable, sea-level education, well worth the sweat and isolation of being in Costa Rica I might add, will undoubtedly help me reach my goal. I will now share with you the most important lessons I’ve learned while attending

The Costa Rican/Thank-Gore-for-the-Internet School of Writing:

1) Publishing is a business with tough competition. The goal is profit. Go hard or go home.
2) The Industry is small. Get your name out there, and play nice.
3) Since not everyone follows Rule #2, the Industry can be brutal. Be prepared.
4) Social Networking is not an option, that’s how you play the game.
5) Twitterati are real people, so are Facebook Fans. Be entertaining and be grateful.
6) The transition from “friends and family” as fans and followers to “strangers” as fans and followers is a good thing, unless they’re creepy, which they might be. Beware.
7) Goodreads, Shelf-Awareness, Writers Digest, Query Tracker, GalleyCat, Publishers Marketplace, NYT Books, Paris Review, Kirkus – okay, I can’t possibly name them all – plus every agent and every major author who has any sort of a web presence… You must read every word put online by each of them every single day, and still carve out 6 or 8 hours a day to write. Also read every book in your genre that’s ever been published. I cannot understate the importance of this.
8 ) No one is going to “happen upon” your web site and make you rich and famous. If you want to be rich and famous, you must do the work to make it happen. If you don’t promote yourself, “they” will find someone else who does. Self-promotion is vital, now more than ever.
9) There’s no such thing as an overnight sensation. Even “New Artist of the Year Awards” go to musical groups who’ve been performing for years. Published authors are not born, they’re made, and it can take years. Be patient.
10) Karma is real. You heard it here first.

“And so, my friends, in closing, to wrap up, with no further ado, here is the bottom line: The dictionary is available to all. Chose the best words; use them sparingly; do the work; then, maybe then, if you’re really lucky, you will dazzle and shine. And visit Costa Rica at least once in your lifetime.

“Adios, mis amigos. Adios, Costa Rica! Te quiero.”

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