2015, Archives, December 2015, The MFA Years

The MFA Year, Singular

Image: Daniel Oines

For me this is The MFA Year, singular. Boston University’s creative writing MFA is, as far as I know, the only 1-year program in the country.

I’ve had varied reactions to the length of this program. Those who are not in the writing world generally think it’s a benefit to return to school for only 1 year. A short program means less time away from the workforce, during which, depending on the field, you might worry about becoming less competitive. Those familiar with MFA programs—which are generally 2 years but can be 3 or even 4—ask if 1 year is enough.

Certainly, it’s an intense year. By the end of my first semester, I will have workshopped 16 poems and put together a first draft of my thesis. I will have taught a multi-genre creative writing course to undergraduates, something that was unimaginable to me last year. This is one factor that drew me to this brief program: in a compressed timeframe, I’m pushed to accomplish what I wasn’t sure I could accomplish.

Another reason why I’m fine with a one-year program is that I’ve been writing for a while, and I have workshop experience. During undergrad, I took 7 workshops across genres (3 poetry, 2 fiction, 1 nonfiction, 1 cross-genre). For those who haven’t had a lot of formal instruction in writing, I think it makes sense to go for a longer program.

The final and most important reason is that the MFA—this single intensive year of writing and reading, free of some of the restrictions of life outside of school—is not the end-all be-all. It’s only the next step in the path that suits me personally.

Here’s an abbreviated version of my writing life. While there are many paths to writing, I’d venture to say that mine follows a common template. I loved reading as a child; the elementary school librarians clandestinely let me check out two books at a time because I needed to exchange books so often. In middle school, I started writing poetry and never stopped. I majored in creative writing in college, worked for 4 years and wrote on the side, and then enrolled in an MFA program so I could write full-time for a while.

What’s next? I’m not sure. I could go for post-MFA opportunities, like fellowships or a PhD. Or return to the workforce, either in a previous line of work or an entirely new one. Any of these is a fine context for the next stage of my writing life.

If application season doesn’t go as planned and you need a second round, then that is another phase in your writing life. The same is true if you matriculate into your dream program, or if you decide not to enroll in an MFA after all.

I’m learning so much with the particular set of people in my program’s cohort and faculty, and having the resources particular to this school and this city. But I also learned a lot that contributed to my writing when I was giving tours of a sewer system, and when I was manning the phone line for a mayoral campaign.

I know you won’t take this advice, but try not to stress too much this application season. You’re a writer now, and regardless of what happens, the choice to be a writer is in your hands alone. Go forth!

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