Surviving the MFA

Author:
Publish date:

Most of the people in my advanced fiction class are in their third year, so the other night my teacher asked us to give him our top three survival strategies for making it through your MFA.I thought I would share with you (since no, I have not started my Steeplechase yet) what I’ve come up with, in no particular order:

1. A SUPPORT SYSTEM WITHIN THE PROGRAM. This should include at least one go-to teacher and one go-to classmate. The teacher should be someone who makes you feel validated, whose work you respect, and who you feel you can talk to freely and honestly. The same criteria applies to the classmate. The only difference is that the fellow student should be someone you can commiserate with about your shared experience, and the teacher should be more of a role model. Going out drinking with one or both of them on a regular basis is also highly recommended.

2. RECOGNIZE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO BE WORKING REALLY HARD. I think sometimes that MFA programs have to prove to the rest of academia that they are a real discipline, with a specific pedagogy and rigorous curriculum and not an army of rudderless, weepy poets. At Columbia--and I would imagine it’s the same elsewhere—teachers have high expectations, so you’d better be ready to work hard. Why? Because writing is really hard. It’s one of the few paradoxical disciplines where the better you become at it, the harder it is. That said, though, no matter how high your program’s expectations are for you, if you really are serious about your writing, your expectations for yourself are always going to be even higher.

3.ACCEPT REJECTION GRACEFULLY AND FOCUS ON YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. I have an Excel spreadsheet that lists all my submissions since October 2009. I’ll be honest: There are 82 entries: 11 acceptances, 46 rejections, a few that I’m still waiting to hear from and another bunch that thought my work was so atrocious it wasn’t worth their time to even click send on the form rejection email. One entry contains the pathetic footnote: “rejection: but with positive feedback”, followed by a series of hopeful exclamation marks. If I were to focus on those odds, though, I’d probably give up. I know it sounds cheesy but being positive really does make a difference. If you do a reading and people applaud, if a classmate pulls you aside after class and tells you they liked your story, if a scrawled teacher's comment across a page means something to you, that is what you should remember. This takes me back to my first point: surround yourself with positive people and avoid cattiness and overcompetition. I really do believe that if you add up all the small victories over the course of your MFA program, it is more than enough to keep you motivated.

What are your survival tips for making it through an MFA, or even just for keeping up with your writing when things aren’t going well? What keeps you motivated as a writer? Good luck this week!

Stohlman_10:31

Five Reasons to Write Flash Fiction: Understanding the Literary Love Child of the Short Story and Poetry

In this article, award-winning author Nancy Stohlman breaks down the difference between flash fiction, prose poetry, and short stories and explains what keeps readers on the hook.

Amir

The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.

Kane2

Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.