Thursday, May 15, 2008

What IS Senior Project and other bits of wisdom

As the Class of 2008 prepares for graduation on May 17, Rachel Deciccio sat down with seniors Erika Bluemel, Michelle Daughtery, and Marie Stern to talk about their Chester College experience; specifically their senior projects.

Erika will graduate with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Her senior project is titled Finally! A Collection of Short Stories.

Where did the ideas for the stories come from? 

Most of my stories (included in my senior project and otherwise) have some grain of truth in them. Some of them are based on things that have happened to me, stories my father told me as a child, family issues, and so on. I find it very useful to take things that have really happened and expand upon them or change them. Also, writing about something you actually like helps make the writing process more enjoyable.

Did you write all of the stories at once or individually?

Each story was written individually. Three of the five stories I am using were written the first semester of my senior year in my Advanced Fiction class. Another one was written the semester before, and the oldest one was written my first semester of junior year. All of them were written for classes and all of them have undergone many changes since their first drafts.

What was the positive outcome of peer editing and advisor input?

Peer editing has always been helpful for me. A lot of the time, it takes another reader to be able to pin point what can be improved upon. After spending so much time on a story, I sometimes hit a block where I don’t know what to do to improve it. With work-shopping, you get many different perspectives and it really helps the stories to evolve.

What recommendations do you have for other seniors?

Give yourself enough time to get everything done that you need to. You want your project to come out the best it can. Also, it’s very helpful to take Advanced Fiction Workshop in the first semester of senior year. You can write stories for the class and then use them as part of your senior project. It helps with keeping your deadlines in check and keeping your ideas fresh and new.

What is the most important thing you have come away with after being a student at Chester College?

I’ve definitely become a better writer. When I look back on the stories I wrote in high school, it blows me away. You really don’t notice how much you’ve improved until you look back at where you came from. I also feel that the knowledge I’ve gained here will help me to improve even further in the future.

What suggestions would you have for other writing majors?

Don’t take workshops personally. Not everyone is going to like your stories 100% of the time. The important thing is to come away from workshops with suggestions on how to improve your stories. There is almost always something you can improve upon and it’s important to listen to other people’s feedback. If you take things like that offensively, you won’t be able to grow in terms of your writing. Also, put all the time and effort into your writing that you need to in order to make it the best it can be. Keep revising and peer editing.

Michelle will graduate with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Her senior project is a combination of poetry (Chester Conversation) and memoir (Los Angeles Address: a native tongue)

Where do your ideas come from? 
Growing up I read and reread Aesop’s Fables. What I have done now is to write my stories in a fable like collection.  But usually ideas just jump out at me from a picture in my head or a conversation I overhear.

Did you write all of the stories at once or individually?

With my project, I collected pieces I had already written over the last three years. A theme had been running through them entirely unintentionally. Once I recognized the main concept, I am now able to flesh out the missing parts.

What obstacles occurred, if any, during the Senior Project?

The biggest enemy my senior project has is time.

What would you do differently?

Work less at my job; or not at all if possible.

What recommendations do you have for other seniors?

Get the basics done early. I took too many electives early so I had to cram the required courses in at the end.

What are your feelings about critiques?

I actually cannot stand them. I find that my own judgment on things produces a more original point of view.

What are your plans after Chester College of New England

I’m off to law school. Chester and writing are my heart; law is for my brain and wallet. At least I had them in the right order.

What suggestions would you have for writing students?

Read everything in the library. Classics need to be read; when else do you have time?

Marie will graduate with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary arts. Her senior project is titled In Action and Apprehension, by Caleb Banciu

Where did the ideas come from?

Well, originally, in it’s earliest stage, the idea for
In Action and Apprehension came from a little snippet of conversation Kris and I had in the car on the way to school. She was saying how there’s one spot on the drive that where she always loses track of where we are. One street. And that really got the hamster wheels turning: the idea of a street that affects awareness or memory somehow. There was a story there. So from there, with a lot of research and a lot more development, came this story of Caleb, a young man who discovers a street that affects the brain in ways similar to Aphasia or Apraxia, it affects memory.

What obstacles occurred, if any, during the Senior Project?

One of the biggest obstacles for me was that I was putting together a show that needed to be a story, but also an installation. I needed to communicate a novella through objects, sounds, textures, smells, and images, not to mention words. But how do you present this? We are trained in a not so counter-disciplinary way – you don’t touch the art, or you read the book’s words, and you almost never interact (which, here, was essential). I was showing something that essentially needs to be “read,” but its main venue of access is through seeing and feeling. That requires a lot of re-training in terms of how it is received, first for myself as the artist, so I could then, on some level, manipulate the audience into re-training themselves to it as well.

What would you do differently?

One thing I would do differently would have been to keep myself more grounded in the physical creating of the works – I tend to get too cerebral, and I get lost in the thinking rather than the making, which isn’t good. The key is to always keep producing work.

What was the positive outcome of peer editing or critiquing and advisor input?

Critique is always positive – even if the critique is that something just not working, or isn’t successful. Critique and peer editing, or work-shopping gives you the opportunity to have fresh eyes look at the work in progress and give you another perspective on things. Other people often catch the mistakes that you are too close to the work to see for yourself, and it only makes the work stronger for it.

What are your feelings about critiques?

Always bear in mind that anything you say in critique needs to be constructive. It’s good to point out that you like or dislike something, but it’s much more helpful to say specifically why that is and how the problem might be fixed.

Do you have anything else to add to your Senior Project?

Oh, yes – I have a feeling this project will be a work in progress forever. The point of it ended up really being about creating not just a character, but a person. And people never get “finished.” They grow. And so, Caleb and his story are going to grow and change with time. For now, though, he’s getting put on the back burner for a while. He’ll come out again in the future, I’m sure, but lets say he’s finished for now. There’s always more to be done.

Have you considered collaborating with other artists in the future?

Oh, definitely! I love collaborating. In fact, I’m working on a collaborative comic story with about four other people right now, and I have plans to draw another comic based on a story written by Dan Keating over the summer, which I’m looking forward to a great deal.

What are your plans after Chester College of New England?

Well, as of right now, the plan is find work and keep making art, keep writing. I want to take a little while off from academia, so I can just live, get a taste of the real world and do some growing. In the meantime, I’m going to be applying to grad school, so I can hopefully be in a program by next year. I’m hoping to go for a terminal degree in Literature with a bent towards creative writing, but I have no idea where I’ll apply yet. I figure I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

What is the most important thing you have come away with after being a student at Chester College?

I’ve grown so much and met so many important people, both students and professors, who I respect and admire so much, and who inspire me to make things, to keep working, and to keep growing.

What suggestions would you have for student artists?

My advice across the board is to always keep putting in your all, keep taking in knowledge while it’s being offered to you, and above all, keep making work. And when you’re given an assignment, don’t just make work for the assignment. Make Art that just happens to give you college credit. Make things you’ll be proud of beyond the assignment, beyond the grade. Make things because you love to, not because the teacher says to. It’ll mean so much more that way.

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