Lagging Behind

While I survived my first semester there were moments when I felt as if I wasn’t the brightest and the best. In fact, there were times last semester when I felt as if I was the least well read student in the program. It seemed as if everyone was talking about books by authors I had never heard of. Everyone was name dropping and I just remained quiet many times when books, authors and theorists were being discussed in the office. I have subscribed to the idea of being silent in order to mask ignorance. There is no point in proving to others you don’t know what you’re talking about. This tactic of being silent seemed to be working so far. I was never called out or anything like that.

Well today I started my first literature course at the graduate level. I was already nervous going in because the work load is quite intense, and I’ve heard from other students that my professor is tough. When my professor started class he asked us to introduce ourselves and talk about ourselves. Well he started asking us questions about our favorite authors and asked the MFA’s whose writing style we felt we imitated or wanted to imitate. These were valid questions I thought. The thing is as it came time for me to speak I started getting nervous. I didn’t know that many authors and didn’t want to just say something like Mary Shelley is favorite when she is and I wish I could write something as brilliant as Frankenstein.  So instead of pretending to know anything I simply shrugged my shoulders saying something along the lines of, “oh gosh, there are too many to pick one.” 

While the class progressed and my professor continued to lecture he would mention an author then ask us who had read this person and that person and it seemed as if I was the only person who hadn’t. I’m really starting to wonder if I’m grad school material. I mean, I’ve read some books, I love literature, and I really love writing but I feel like I’m the dumbest person in my program and I’m worried my silent act won’t last much longer.

I wonder if I’m the only person in my program, or any MFA program who feels this way? Are there any others like me who just don’t feel like there are with it? And those of you who are with it how did find the time to read all these books? I’m stressing out!



  1. I don’t think you’re alone in this. Partly because I skipped all the theory stuff in grad school and I’m not going to lose sleep over it at this point, I’ve gone through feeling similarly. I’m not badly read at all, but I have to wonder about the name dropping & theory hashing that’s so popular in the MFA programs. It sounded so masturbatory to me, especially since it serves more to show smart the speaker is vs. actually contributing to creating work.

    Don’t get me wrong. I believe reading’s important to a writer. It’s listening to writers and cultivating that speech to the readers. All those books are models for us.

    Whatever reading choices you have, they’re still useful. Read the books you like and use them. Don’t let some pretentious literary poser cow you into silence.

    Hope that helps.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right about some of the students being pretentious and will definitely be writing about the “grad school snobs.” I think that maybe one of the things grad school is supposed to teach is not care what people think which is a good lesson for me since I worry about this more than I should.

  2. PS
    And those of you who are with it how did find the time to read all these books? – That’s a really good question, especially in the 21st century.

    When I rode the bus, I often used the travel time to read. I’ve read late at night and early in the morning. I’ve read in the car in campus parking lots. Like most people, I’ve done reading on airplanes and I’ve been fortunate to have strangers who minded their own business sitting next to me. I’ve also taken books with me to coffee, but I’m finding cafes for reading and writing to be counterproductive.

    I’ve read a lot on my bed, most of the time sitting on it or laying across it in a way I wouldn’t when sleeping. This perhaps is the most luxurious option.

    All that said, the challenge is shutting out things like TV, the Internet (such as Facebook), and Netflix movies. As for things that can’t be skipped, like grading papers and studying & preparing for your lessons, work those into a schedule along with your reading. Don’t you just love 21st century life?

    1. Thanks again for the comment. I was thinking in class yesterday that I don’t belong in the 21st century. Although I do subscribe to the idea of being very productive, I think I was meant to live among the romantics like Shelley, Wordsworth and Keats. It’s frustrating because at times I love this age we live where information is at our fingertips and we can use the bathroom indoors but then I think about how simple it must have been to appreciate books as entertainment and live theatre. I may not know what era I belong in, but I do know my soul feels old at times.

  3. Don’t ever feel like you don’t belong. Something got you to where you are, I am guessing it is your passion to write. Imagine if every great writer read the same books or followed so and so’s theories. Jeez we wouldn’t have some of the great works out there. Sometimes I wonder if these people really get what they are reading or do they do it just to be a name dropper. Keep us up to date with how things are going.

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I do often feel that maybe people are trying to show off. I decided that I’m there for me not them. And don’t worry I will definitely keep you posted.

      Thanks for the comment as well.

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