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Reflection Mode: Thinking About Life Inside an MFA Program

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.

Over the next few weeks as I write my last posts as MFA
Confidential I know I will certainly be in “reflection mode.” The two years I
spent in an MFA program have flown by—I can’t believe it is almost over. I
remember contemplating whether I even wanted to pursue this degree in the first
place, wondering if it was “worth it.” That age old question popped into my
head: Can writing even be taught? I realize now, it had little to do with that.
First—I was a writer before I entered the program— and though skills were
taught and works were analyzed, the program did so much more than simply teach
me how to shape a story: it encouraged me, pushed me, supported me, and
immersed me into a world I had only yet dipped my toes into. Yes, I dunked my
head deep into the world of writing. It became a priority. It became my goal.
And the structure and support of the program made chasing that goal more
manageable, more of a reality.

Would I have been so
fully engaged in the writing world if I hadn’t attended the program? I’m not so
sure. I certainly wouldn’t have made the contacts I made, formed the community
I now cherish. I certainly wouldn’t have been afforded the amazing opportunities
I’m so grateful for. Perhaps one day I would have had all these things, or some
version of these things, but I think it would have taken much longer to achieve
them. These two years have been so rich, a crash course of sorts, filled with
experiences that have shaped me.

And so now, I really hope to dig deep—I want to think about
all this: How would I explain to someone what an MFA in Creative Writing
program is really like? Would I recommend pursuing one? What did I learn? How
did it change me? There have been moments, too, of frustration and disappointment.
What would I have changed? And this: has the program prepared me for life
outside those walls? For a career in writing? I hope to tackle some of these
questions over the next couple weeks.

And if any you, my readers, have specific questions about
applying for an MFA, about life in an MFA program, or about writing in general,
please don’t hesitate in asking. Just drop me a note in the comments section
and I’ll do my best to answer it.

 “You are buying yourself time. And time is
what a writer needs.”

-Tom
Kealey on one reason why to apply to a creative writing program, The Creative Writing MFA Handbook

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5 Responses to Reflection Mode: Thinking About Life Inside an MFA Program

  1. Kate says:

    Kristan- You’re welcome! Yes, I definitely found it worthwhile. Are you contemplating pursuing the degree?

    Lisa—Thanks! Yes, I am bracing for that adjustment period. I’m definitely already setting up writer dates because I know I will need to talk about writing and book and all that good stuff. I’ll be ravenous for it!

    Katie—Yes, I personally thought it was worth it. I remember when I was trying to decide whether to pursue it or not and my husband said to me—“An education is never a waste—go for it.” I think that is so true… and if you can find a program that has some financial aid and job opportunities, it’s really doable. It certainly isn’t a degree where you graduate and are “guaranteed” an automatic career or a clear career path, but I knew that going into it. Teaching, yes, is an option—whether it is at the MFA level, undergrad level, or even at the high-school level. As for other careers—I know people who’ve moved into the publishing industry, either working at a publishing house or at a magazine. There are certainly many options and I believe my MFA set me up with some great leads and great contacts and hopefully I will be successful when I pursue some of those opportunities. Oh, and yes!— I will be blogging somewhere else once I finish up this blog. Just setting up the blog now and hope to post the new site soon. Stay tuned! Hope this helped. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    Aeriale—Every program is different, but not all programs are geared towards teaching. My program actually had an optional class called “Teaching Writing.” You did not have to take it— many students didn’t. Also, only 1 out of 3 students in my program student taught. So it’s not something that’s required of you or pressed upon you. Many people don’t want to teach. I didn’t TA- I chose to work as a research assistant instead. So yes, it’s certainly worth it if you don’t want to TA or teach. There are other routes you can take. It seems like you would be applying for a non-fiction concentration since you’re interested in freelancing and travel writing? You may be interested in some sort of research work, too, or internships that focus on your interests. There are many available (depends on the program and location, too). You said “I would be pursuing an MFA degree in the hopes of developing my writing with others in a workshop setting amongst esteemed professors who want to help and push me toward my goal.” This is the absolute perfect reason to pursue a degree. We can’t always go into a program knowing exactly what the outcome will be, what job we will end up with, you know? But if the above is your immediate hope, what you want to get out of a program, you will find it answered in spades if you enter a solid, well established MFA program. Let me know if you need/ want more info.

  2. Aeriale says:

    Kate,

    I’ll be a senior in college and am planning on applying to schools for an MFA in the Fall. The aspect of the MFA I am struggling with, however, is the fact that I don’t want to teach. I’m leaning more toward freelancing/travel writing for a magazine column. I guess my question concerning the MFA is this: Is the MFA specifically geared toward those wanting to advance in a teaching degree? Is the MFA worth paying for if I don’t particularly want to be a TA or teach my way through the program?

    I would be persuing an MFA degree in the hopes of developing my writing with others in a workshop setting amongst esteemed professors who want to help and push me toward my goal.

    I’m looking forward to hearing a little more about your experience in this regard.

    Thanks for every bit of insight you’ve written here.

    A.

  3. Katie says:

    I’m excited about reading through these reflections as you write them. One of my biggest questions is: is it worth it? Also, what are you going to do with it? Obviously there’s writing, but are you in a position where you can make a career out of that? The only other alternative I seem to see is teaching. Am I missing some?

    Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to reflect with you. Will you be keeping another blog after MFA Confidential closes?

    <>< Katie

  4. Lisa Romeo says:

    You’re right about it being next to impossible to explain to people what it’s really like inside an MFA program. And guess what, it’s also rather hard to explain what it’s like once you’ve finished. So, congratulations and get ready for a period of adjustment (You mean not everyone I talk to today will want to talk about writing?!), but then things begin to even out. At least that was my experience. Good luck.

  5. Kristan says:

    "To MFA or not to MFA, that is the question." Or at least one question for me. And I still don’t know the answer, but I appreciate getting an inside scoop via your blog. Thanks for always being so open and honest about your experience. I’m glad you found it worthwhile. :)

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