I am finishing up the first year of my MFA and I will say it has been the most rewarding year of my life. I learned a ton about myself, writing, reading and the nature of grades.
I will begin by talking about the self. There is absolutely no way you are going to get through the first year without writing something deeply personal. There’s only so much writing you can do before you pull the covers on yourself. You begin to discuss your addictions, or your family or your sexuality even in fictional work. There’s no way around it. The only way out is through. Crank out those semi-autobiographical works and do not resist. When you are done writing them, you’ll stop writing them. You might find that your work is a variation on a theme. Don’t worry about it. Marguerite Duras wrote about the same thing for years and no one said anything.
I also learned that workshop is very arbitrary. You will get conflicting feedback from your peers. You will anger and maybe insult your peers. You will have apathetic peers. You have to remember that it’s your story and you get the last word on what you do with it. You will be asked “what’s at stake?” You will find unique used copiously and if not you will hear it’s synonyms. It’s okay. You are okay. They are talking about your story and not you.
When it comes to reading, sit down and read. Reading will be the most rewarding experience ever. You will get to read things you passionately love and things you abhor. It doesn’t matter. Reading is where you learn things about writing as a craft. Reading is also where you get to learn about yourself: what types of writing you like or dislike.
Earning good grades does not equal a better writer, practice does. MFA-ing will actually put constraints on your time so that you may actually write less. Don’t let this happen to you. Write. After all, that is what you came here for: to learn how to be a better writer, not to get straight A’s. If you can do both, that’s awesome but it helps to give yourself time to network and to prioritize. I’m not saying don’t hand in good work. I’m saying hand in spectacular work. Give yourself time to grow and to write great things under insane time constraints. But also write on your own. Never let yourself forget that you love this.
Sarah Francois is an MFA candidate at LIU Brooklyn. She resides in Brooklyn. She has poetry published in Poetic Diversity, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Paramount and Visceral Brooklyn. She waxes poetic on her blog and on Twitter.
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