Tag Archives: master’s degree

Portrait of a Learning Addict

I have a learning addiction.

I’m taking an online class right now on branding and, at the same time, I’m teaching an online class on goal setting and time management. I bought two of my teacher’s books and have already started reading both. (Kristen Lamb’s Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer and We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.) I also took an online class in November about training your brain and helping it work better for you. The teachers, Susan and Harry Squires, also suggested a book (One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer), a sample of which I downloaded to my Kindle. If I can convince myself to pay $10 for it, I want to read the rest of that one, too.

I often find myself with a bigger To Do list than I can possibly accomplish. If I just stopped taking classes and reading books, I’d have skads of time!

And yet you know what I did last week? I looked up seminaries that offer online classes on faith and culture. I even found a class on faith and popular fiction – perfect! – and actually considered trying to enroll even though I really don’t have time or money to take another class right now. My student loans from my master’s degree in creative writing go into repayment next month, for Pete’s sake!

I think I need counseling.

What would a 12-step program for a learning addiction look like, anyway? Well, I’d have to stop taking any kind of class because you know how one just leads to another. The teacher of my branding class is going to teach a blogging class later. I don’t need to take it – and I could stop myself from signing up if I wanted to – but I’m probably going to take that one, too. Couldn’t hurt, right? Really.

Worse than not taking any more classes would be limiting my exposure to friends who are taking classes. They’d be talking about the cool stuff they’re learning and my eye would begin to twitch and my fingers would accidentally type out a Google search for classes and I’d soon be enrolled in “The Symbolism of Butterflies in the Romantic Comedy.” Or worse yet, I’d design and teach that course!

No, I think I should forego counseling and 12-step programs and just let nature take its course. What’s the worst that can happen? I already drool over new books and get heart palpitations when I see ads for the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute or ITT. I could totally be a motorcycle mechanic or a cash register programmer!

Please, friends, tell me what some of your addictions are so I don’t feel like the oddball. Or just let me know about an online class that would help.

Finally Graduating!

I’m so excited – I’m finally graduating from university! Woo-hooo!! It feels a little anti-climatic since I stopped going to class in early June and graduation isn’t until early October. But I’m sure I’ll be really excited when it happens. As John is fond of saying, I do love being the center of attention.  🙂

In only a few short weeks, someone from University of Technology, Sydney will be calling out my name, mispronouncing my last name despite the phonetics they requested, and handing me a piece of paper worth $30,000 and quite a bit of pride. I don’t think writers put M.A. after their names, do they? Too bad.

It’s funny, after all that work, my biggest problem right now is finding my “plus three.” Of course, my first guest choice is John.  🙂  If he doesn’t come, I will be seriously bummed. He’s working overtime right now on Happy Feet 2, so it’s always possible that even though he asked for the day off months ago, he may not make it. Or he may be in and out without staying around for the reception. But here’s hoping not.

Two of my girlfriends that I spend the most time with will be on holiday overseas. I can hardly compete with family trips to France and Germany. My other girlfriend wants to come but she’s entertaining her nephews and isn’t sure if she can make it.

So… I’m celebrating one of the biggest accomplishments of my life so far and I don’t know who will be able to share it with me. Bummer! But…one way or another I’m going to stay excited about the big day. God knows how it will all turn out, and he’s very good at planning wonderful surprises, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens!  🙂

Celebrating Makes It Real

Yesterday I finally took some time to celebrate finishing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree. John and I invited over three of our favorite couples – Mel and Andrew, Rachel and Simeon, and Ruth and Luke – along with their three daughters.

When I woke up in the morning, I was not feeling very hospitable. I think I’m still getting over being tired from 18 months of full-time grad school, a month of intercontinental traveling, and a month of having my mom here visiting. In any case, it was all I could do to talk myself into thinking how nice it would be to have them all over.

Creative Writing cupcakes!

But everyone showed up excited and upbeat and eager to celebrate with me! All that positive energy flowing around certainly improved my attitude – and quickly.

Rachel, an amazing cupcake maker, made up her own recipe for chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter filling. My two favorite flavors! Then she decorated them with a big swirl of creamy chocolate frosting and topped them with homemade stars and books! They’re AWESOME!!

Little homemade books on top!

Ruth made a peanut butter chocolate cheesecake a couple months ago and let Rachel and I have a taste. I told her it was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had! (The Cheesecake Factory used to be my favorite go-to spot for cheesecake, but now it’s Ruth’s house!) So she made one and brought it to the party. I was so excited to eat it, I forgot to take a picture of it. But trust me, it was DELICIOUS!

After a couple hours of everyone talking and eating and laughing – and three little girls under 4 chasing John around our apartment (or was he chasing them? I heard, “More, more!” several times) – we came down from our sugar high. The parents all decided their children needed a nutritious dinner (go figure!) and we called it a day. John relaxed on his computer for the evening and I got to spend another three or four hours reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (I might’ve eaten another piece of cheesecake, too, but I don’t think I should admit it.)

Somewhere in that relaxing down time it occurred to me that I was really happy that I’d finished my degree. It seemed oddly real now that we’d celebrated the accomplishment. I decided that we needed to remember to do this more often – celebrate the things that are important, whether big or small.

And we should all eat more cheesecake.

Taking a Breath

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

I am so tired that I still can’t believe it – I have a master’s degree! Wow! Friends have asked me, how does it feel? And I say, I’m not sure yet. Of course, that’s partially because I went from class to a 14-hour plane ride to running around trying to see every friend I have in all of Southern California! LOL!

The jet lag isn’t helping. I’ve gone to bed early, gone to bed late, and still I woke up between 1am and 3am, then wasn’t able to fall asleep till after 5am. I’ve been out in the sunshine for hours, keeping up a schedule based on this time zone, not napping, drinking lots of water. But I’m still exhausted. Last night I even tried staying up till 3am hoping that would get me past that middle of the night waking period. But it only made me more tired.

I was talking to my friend Marcy and she reminded me I was doubtless going to feel exhausted anyway after I finished that last sprint for my classes. Then I took a transoceanic flight and kept running around, trying to adjust but not giving myself much room to do so. In which case, it’s a double-whammy on my mind and body.

It occurred to me that just like I take clues from my regular life and apply them to writing, now I can take a clue from writing and apply it to regular life. Sometimes you just have to relax and take a breath.

So I’m going to try to relax a bit with my big to do list and my trying so hard to do everything, and I’m going to try to take a little time to relax. Since I’m still going to run around and see three more sets of friends today, I guess in some ways the relaxing is only going to be mental.  LOL! But sometimes it’s your mind that sets the direction for everything else, so I think it will help a lot.

I don’t have a plan for any routines right now. I have no idea what my summer schedule is. I don’t even know for sure what I’m going to do at my writer’s retreat this weekend (except to figure out what I need to do to be ready for the NY writer’s conference in two weeks). I’m going to try to chill. Then after I’ve had a mental and emotional deep breath, I’ll come up with the next part of the plan. Hopefully, I’ll have had some sleep by then.

What about you? Are you busy with plans? Or taking a little break?


Tired but Happy

It is 12:54am on my friend’s DVD player clock. California time. I am awake. Exhausted but awake. My computer says it’s 5:54pm Sydney time. I think this is why I’m awake.

The part of me that’s exhausted after 72-ish hours of fighting jet lag is grumpy. I don’t do well on less than seven hours of sleep a night, and I’ve been getting four to five, tops. But the grumpiness is so overwhelmed by the SHEER JOY of seeing friends, going to my RWA writer’s group (with much hugging), going to my home church (with much hugging), and getting ready for an annual writer’s retreat followed by the RWA National Conference in New York City (enter much, MUCH hugging!) that I’m trying to be chill about the fact that I can barely put a sentence together at various times of the day.  🙂

I’ve tried all the tips and tricks for jet lag and it’s not working fast enough for me. Tonight I’m trying my own idea. I’ve been waking up at 1am for the last few nights, whether I went to bed at 9pm or 11pm, and I’ve been unable to get back to sleep until after 5am. So I decided I’d stay awake till 1am tonight (this morning?) and see if I can sleep the rest of the night.

Oh look! The clock just turned over to 1:01am. Time to try to get some sleep. Even with that stupid bird singing outside the window. Is he from Sydney, too? Sigh. That’s okay, I’ll just keep focusing on how great it is to be doing all these writerly things now that I’m done with my degree!!!



<<wild clapping>>

It’s a Matter of Degree

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

By the time you read this, I’ll be done with all of my homework and on my way to my final class. I’ll have my master’s degree! Yay!!

But right at this moment, it feels miles away. Not millions of miles away, but not just a few steps either. I’ve gone to the last session of one class and turned in my last assignment there. I have everything done for my Thursday class, literally the last session of school I’ll have before I’m gone for good. But in less than eight hours I have to turn in my last – as yet unfinished – homework assignment. The important one. My “professional project.”

It’s been a hard class for me and I’ve complained way too much about it. But it would be the same problem for anyone who went to a writer’s group or got a critique from a friend who just doesn’t read your kind of writing. They don’t know they’re not helping you, even maybe making you want to give up. They’re being really nice and sometimes they have something very insightful to say that actually makes sense to you.

But in the end, you have to find a new group, people who understand your genre enough to know how to critique it in terms of what publishers are buying. You may have to go through a few more hard times until you find the right bunch. The morning after my last class I fly to LA and then New York. I’ll go to my old Romance Writers of America chapter and I’ll love on all my old friends, but I’ll have to keep in mind that few of them write the kind of non-sex non-romance somewhat humorous urban fantasy I’m writing right now. Then I’ll go to my favorite writer’s retreat, a whole bunch of Christian writers who are my family. They’re sooo supportive but don’t really write much or read much like what I’m writing.

Then I’ll fly to New York for the big Romance Writers of America National Conference. Though the title implies all things romance, there are a lot of writers in that 10,000+ member organization who write other things, including work similar to mine. That’s the super awesome part! The flip side is that I don’t know very many of them, so I have to seek them out. Luckily, I just joined the Young Adult RWA group. I think those people will “get me” in a way many of my academic friends don’t. (Though I’ve had some really encouraging feedback from some of my school friends!)

So when it comes down to it, it’s all a matter of degree. When I need to talk to friends about why I write what I write and how I can be encouraged and work harder and find joy, I seek out my Christian writer friends. When I want to discuss the publishing industry and talk shop about how to write better characters or add suspense, my RWA friends are the bomb. For networking and improving my professional presence, the RWA National Conference gets the job done every time.

When it comes to my academic colleagues – teachers and students – they are passionate about their work, just as I am. We haven’t always understood each other’s work, but we all knew we were on the same page when it comes to wanting to stretch and grow as writers. It’ll take more time to figure out and understand what exactly I learned over the last sixteen months. Time and distance will help me to see more clearly.

And that’s what I have to remember today. For the next few hours, I have to do the best I can as fast as I can. But once school is over, I’ll be able to take a breath, refocus my work on the market instead of the academic requirements, and get back into it with joy and energy. I expect that day to be Monday! LOL! I’m as curious as you are as to what I’ll write here next week. Where will I be in my headspace then? Surely less stressed out than I am right now.  🙂  See you then!

Two More Days of Homework Left

I’ve completed the homework for two of my final three classes in my master’s degree. Now I just have to finish the big 15,000-word assignment. I’m having fun figuring out what kinds of spells and magic Trista is being forced to learn and use, and how she’s fighting the Guardians without openly defying them. It’s been fun – despite the fact that the clock is ticking.

My brain has done all it can on the magic front today. (It’s Sunday evening here in Sydney.) I’m going to go finish packing so I can work on my assignment all day tomorrow and Tuesday. Then one way or another, no matter how good or bad it is, I have to print my last assignment before I go to bed Tuesday night. I can guarantee that one way I’m going to celebrate is with gelato Wednesday at Gelatomassi in Newtown. Yum! Bitter Dark Chocolate, that’s my flavor of choice.

So I’ll go finish my packing so I’m ready to fly the U.S. on Friday morning. The one good thing about the trip following on the heels of my last class is that I should be able to sleep on the plane for a change. I’m already exhausted and I still have four more days of classes to go. And Thursday night’s class is going to the pub afterward to celebrate. Yeah, I think I’ll be sleeping fine during that 14-hour flight.

Then the only thing that will be stressing me out is trying to remember to drive on the right side of the road for a few weeks! LOL!

What Kind of Character Will I Be?

On Wednesdays, I’ll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

I have ten days to complete the last three assignments for the last three classes of my master of arts in creative writing degree from University of Technology, Sydney. When I turn in a script for a short film, the climax scene of my superhero novel, and the first 15,000 words of a new urban fantasy, I’ll be done with my degree. Yay!

Then the next morning I’ll be flying from Sydney to Los Angeles to visit friends and go to a writer’s retreat, then off to New York City to attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference. It’s going to be a busy month, even without homework!

So while we’re talking about character this month, my thoughts are turning inward. What kind of character am I becoming? How have I changed since the last time I was in the pressure cooker of higher education?

  • Perfectionist – One of my biggest hurdles from birth through getting my bachelor degree was perfectionism. On the one hand, it’s helped me to be a high achiever. On the other hand, it’s brought out some of my worst qualities. I tend toward blaming people when things don’t go the way I want them to. I become highly critical of all aspects of the process. My standards are sometimes almost unattainable. But I began this last period of schooling knowing that would be an issue for me. I thought about my actions and responses from day one, wondering if I was reacting like the person I wanted to be rather than the person I once was.
  • Impatient – A partner issue to perfectionism is impatience. Though it often comes out as complaining, my impatience is often directed at myself. I can do better, I know I can. I haven’t worked hard enough. I could have worked harder on that. But it’s often directed outward as well. That teacher isn’t as prepared as he/she should be. We aren’t being pushed enough. We aren’t being taught how to excel in our work in the way I was expecting, in the way I wanted. But this time around, I seemed to be surrounded by people encouraging me to relax and do my best and let everything else fall into place as it would.
  • Persevering – I’m not a quitter, but for the first 22 years of my life, achievement came easily to me. I didn’t know what to do when I didn’t win at something, or achieve something. I usually moved on, assuming I wasn’t good at X or Y if I couldn’t do it straight away. But time has taught me differently. I’m a much better writer than many people. But many others are better writers than I can even imagine being. This time through school, I understood that some things needed to be worked on harder and longer. Some pieces would be well-received by my university audience, and other pieces were only getting praise from non-academics. I’m still sorting that out. But I have found the areas in which I love to write and, even if I get lower grades for writing in a genre or style that my academic friends don’t understand, I’m proud of myself for persevering down the path I know is right for me.

As much as I’ve wanted a chance to pursue this degree for the last ten years, I’m glad it’s over. There have been more disappointments than celebrations. I’m not yet convinced that I’ve been taught anything to make me a better writer. I suspect qualities will come up over time, or perhaps in the company of my other writer friends who knew the before and after writer, that prove I’ve learned a lot in the last sixteen months. And I’m sure a big part of my failure to see obvious growth is because of my perfectionist qualities.

But the process has made me a better person, or at least it’s helped me to see that I am growing as a human being. I’m closer to the Kitty God had in mind when he created me. And that makes me happy.

I’m also closer to the kind of person who will enjoy and work hard at a successful career as a fiction writer. I know more about what working hard means – and it doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard enough if you didn’t work yourself sick. I know how to better balance all the aspects of my life in a career that is not only demanding, but where I’m the boss – so I’m becoming a better, more reasonable, and more patient boss.

I’m not sure the last sixteen months and $30,000 has made me a better writer. But the process has helped me to understand better how to grow as a person. It required more prayer than I would’ve expected. More patience with myself than I’ve ever allowed. And more support and encouragement from my friends than I would’ve been willing to ask for.

In the end, I know that God picked the right time and place for me to go through this, and I know that I’ll continue to see and reap the benefits long after I’ve been handed the piece of paper. I think the best part of the whole process has been watching God grow me into a better person every day, and being surprised and awed that he thinks I’m worth so much time and effort.

But then I think about how much time and effort I put into my fictional characters…


14 + 3 = M.A.

It’s amazing to me how tight the end-of-degree crunch is. I’ve known for twelve weeks that I have a final assignment due in each of my classes, and I’ve been working on them for twelve weeks. Yet here I am in the crunch time, not ahead of the game with my assignments like I thought I’d be, and behind in nearly everything else. But my friends who just graduated with their bachelor degrees reminded me it was the same for them. Some things don’t change, I guess!

So with fourteen days to go until my three assignments need to be turned in, I am hustling to get the writing and editing done. It’s fun, but I do wish I had more time. Of course, if I weren’t planning an overseas trip for the day after my last class, one which requires coordinating three hotels in two cities, and meeting up with nearly two dozen individuals as well as a couple of group parties, and bringing my mom back to Australia with me – if it weren’t for all that extra work, I probably would be done with all of my assignments right now! LOL!

When times get tough, I keep reminding myself that, worst case scenario, I won’t fail any of my classes and I’ll have a master of arts degree in three weeks. Hurray!! I’ll try to keep you updated. Meanwhile, have a great day and week!  🙂

Give Them What You Owe

I’ve been struggling to find the right balance between writing what my teachers seem to want and writing what pleases me. This morning I was reading about Jesus telling people, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” and it occurred to me that I can use that principle to find writing balance until school is over.

There are certain expectations about format and structure and characterization and description in my writing classes. I can definitely fulfill those expectations. But content is supposed to be up to me. That being said, I feel the majority of people in my classes aren’t interested in the genres I write in and don’t know as much as I do about the genre conventions. Not that I’m an expert; many of them know far more than I do about literary conventions, so I’m sure I’m not that helpful a critiquer to many of my classmates, either.

I thought about the Caesar thing today before I started writing. What I finally decided is that I will do the very best I can in the areas I mentioned, but I’m in this master’s degree program right now because God gave me a gift that I want to use better. So when it comes to the creative side, what I choose to write about, I’m not going to try to write what I think might get me a better grade or more praise. I’m going to write the stories I’m dying to tell. If I get a lower mark, I’ll just suck it up. I’ll still pass. I’ll still have a degree in six weeks.

And I’ll still be happy with what I’m writing. That’s worth a lot.