Minor Panic Attacks

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WARNING: VERY LONG RANT

I am on the verge of a minor panic attack.  Not that the “minor” part makes it any better.  Deadlines are coming up and I know I’ll make them, but the knowing doesn’t seem to do much for the stress of the moment I’m in right now, the moment in which the work is not done.

I am an MFA student in a Low-Residency Creative Writing program.  This means that for the first week of each semester, I road-trip to Vermont where I will take numerous workshops and meet with my advisor and advising group.  During this week, I create a semester plan with my advisor, then return home and get to work.  Unlike traditional residency programs, I don’t attend classes; I don’t take tests.  I work on my own.  I read and I write and I write some more.  Every three weeks I mail in a packet containing critical essays on the books I’ve read, creative work, and a letter detailing my process during that period.  One nerve-wracking week later (give or take a few days), I receive a response from my advisor detailing my success and especially my need for improvements.

So far, this process has worked well enough.  I was homeschooled from 3rd grade through high school graduation and did a bit of independent study during my undergrad, so I know how to do this.  My advisor has been very helpful in the editing process and has high praise for my critical work, but I am really floundering with my creative work and I have more outside responsibilities than I during my previous schooling.  On top of this primarily independent graduate program, I’m working at least 33 hours a week as a nanny, so I am very busy and very stressed and very much a procrastinator.

My current panic attack—I get one whenever a new packet due date approaches—is because I need to mail in my next packet (packet 4 of 5) on Saturday.  I usually mail in on Friday, but my advisor was late returning my last packet, so he pushed the due date for this packet back a little so I had time to process his response in terms of my new work.  So now it’s due on a Saturday, which is good because then I have all of Friday to finish the packet, but bad because the post office closes at 1pm, rather than 5pm, on Saturday, which means that I won’t have as much time in the morning to do the last minute proofreading I like to do the day the packet is due.  I won’t have as much time to let the work settle before I go back over it because I will have to do at least some of the proofreading on Friday immediately after finishing the writing.  Less time and distance from the work before proofreading means more mistakes in the final product and I am a perfectionist, as is my advisor (I guess in a way, we’re perfectly matched).

I would still be having a panic attack over this, because I will always procrastinate and I will always panic at the last minute, but I usually have 3 weeks to complete the packet work and submit it, but this time (because of the delay from the last packet), I have only two weeks.  In this packet I need at least two 3-page annotations and a 5-page “short” critical paper—all of these are about half written—along with as much good creative work as I can manage.  I have done well on this critical work and I know I will again, but it is still hard and I am still very worried about getting it done because the pieces are not yet falling into place as they eventually do.

I am most concerned about the creative work.  The packets are allowed a maximum of 40 pages.  With the critical work and process letter pages I anticipate submitting in this packet, that leaves me with about 25 pages for creative work.  I think I have about 5.  In my first packet, I filled all the remaining pages with creative work (28 pages) and I just dumped it in there after only a basic spelling/grammar check because I didn’t see the point of doing detail edits on work I expected to write again from scratch if I chose to continue with those pieces.  My response on this work was largely grammatical.  I wanted comments on the overall work, grammatical mistakes, so for Packet 2, I worked very hard to edit the pieces so that mistakes in the writing would not be the focus of the response.  The response on the Packet 2 creative work was no better than the previous response, so for Packet 3, I submitted 11 pages of creative work and didn’t bother with editing.  The response was that the work was too brief and rough to comment on.  This packet, I want to submit more work and I want it to be good.  This is my second to last packet, my last chance to get input on this work for this semester and I want to be set up for the final packet of the semester.  This means that in addition to finishing the 3 other essays I’m working on, I need to write at least 10 more pages of creative work AND edit those pages to perfection.  The creative work alone would be enough to keep me busy in the days I have left, and yet I still have the critical work and then a process letter which I can’t write until I’ve finished all the other work in the packet.  Not to mention my responsibilities outside of school.

So, the pressure is on.  I’m taking deep breaths and making mental lists of what must be done and how I plan to accomplish it all.  I will be done in time; my packet will arrive on his desk by the due date, but I can’t guarantee that the work will be to the standard I’d like it to be.

Sorry about the extensive rant.  I’ve had this building up all semester.  Had I begun my blog sooner, I could have let off the steam in more manageable doses.  If you’re still reading,  you’re my favorite person in the world!

J

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