I never would have gotten through the first draft of my novel without the low residency MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). For years I wrote, rewrote, and then wrote again a seven-page scene in which a man and woman meet up in a bookstore years after their relationship has ended. She’s interested in rekindling the romance and finds out when he’s likely to be in the bookstore at the coffee bar to “accidentally” run into him.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I tweaked that scene slightly, saved it on my computer and then revisited it years later, making little or no progress.
When I enrolled at SNHU—the low-residency program is now called Mountainview—I was determined to unspool what I’d written and expand my story into a full-length narrative.
The professors helped me develop the discipline I needed. I was required to spend 40 hours a week on my writing. Since I worked—and still work—a full-time job, I had to give up television and time-wasting activities.
- I learned how to write a chapter-by chapter outline, which helped me develop a direction for my story.
- I learned how to create a story arc, a story’s full progression.
- I learned how to make each character distinctive, giving each character its own voice and personality.
- Each of us students were assigned a mentor—a professor who helped shepherd us through the process.
By graduation day, I had a full-length manuscript, a first draft. Instead of a man and woman who reunite in a bookstore, I developed Malachi and Sydney, a newlywed couple who—in the face of an urban redevelopment project that will uproot a nearby neighborhood—open up an activist bookstore in a fictional New England port city.
That first draft of The Talking Drum has gone through many revisions and will go through another when I edit the manuscript under the guidance of my editor at Inanna Publications to get it ready for publication in May 2020.