2015, Archives, December 2015, The MFA Years

The Best and Worst Things About Being an MFA Student in 2015

My writing spot in Ireland.

It’s the end of the year, and that means time for lists!

By this time next year, I will have graduated my MFA program. By this time six months from now, I will have just graduated. This time last year, I’d only been in the program for six months. So this means that 2015 was my only year of completely being in this graduate program. Time to reflect!


1. I LEARNED HOW TO WRITE! I know, what? In a writing program? It seems obvious, but until you’re in the thick of it, you don’t realize just how much you’re changing and adapting and learning until you look at a manuscript you wrote before entering the program, and you give out an “ohhhhh fuuuuuuudge.” All of the reading and writing and analyzing and work-shopping forces you to grow and evolve as a person in the field.

2. I MET REALLY COOL PEOPLE. My professors and my fellow students are some of the coolest, most open-hearted people I’ve worked with. Sometimes I read things that my classmates are working on, and I’m blown away. Sometimes I am sitting in a workshop with one of my professors, and I am jumping up and down inside like a cocker spaniel because I love what they  do and I can’t believe they’re teaching me.

3. I WENT TO FAR-OFF PLACES. My program has taken me everywhere from Maine to Ireland to learn, and my thesis has pushed me to visit Louisiana, Boston, London, Paris, and a bunch of other places for research. One of the coolest pieces of research I got to do was seeing a West End play this summer.

4. I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BE AN INTROVERT. I think it’s a rule that if you’re a writer, you are programmed to not be good at the talking-to-other-people thing. We write so much that we forget how to talk, or maybe because we were never good at talking, we learn how to write so much. Whatever the chicken and egg, we are adorably awkward in social situations. Being in an MFA program has forced me to talk to people, to converse about ideas, and to forgive myself when I say something very stupid during a Q&A in a lecture hall at full capacity (and that seems to happen at least once every residency).

5. I HAVE LEARNED TO DO A JOB I LOVE. I get to wake up every day and focus my energy toward learning an art form that I have a real passion for. I get to work on my book, I get to read other people’s books, and I get to talk about how to make stories come alive. That’s the true gift of this year, and I’m grateful every day for it.


1. MONEY. I am poor. So poor. I just balanced my checkbook tonight, and do you know what I found? Well, it wasn’t money, I assure you of that. I remember when I would look at something that was a hundred bucks and I would say, “I have a grown-up job and now I can buy this grown-up thing. What is a hundred dollars to the fanciness of me?” And then I would gleefully skip down the aisle, carrying my hundred-dollar doo-dad to the cash register. Now I’m literally looking around my apartment and wondering what objects I can part with. So if you or someone you know want the complete set of How I Met Your Mother on DVD, let me know.

2. LEGITIMACY. Turns out that a lot of relatives don’t understand exactly what an MFA is. My husband went to law school. I went to a terminal degree program as well, but it wasn’t law school. I have run into this problem before in undergrad. My best friend at the time was a pre-med student, and I was getting my BFA in Playwriting. He went to a Tier 3 school, and I went to the third best theatre program in the country. Didn’t matter. When he came to visit me, he sat through my Directing class, fell asleep, and then when we walked out, he told me, “Don’t ever complain about how hard your life is again.” Because see, us in the art business don’t cut brains open for a living, so we’re not working our asses off at all. There are some relatives who do not understand the concept of going to school for something that should be considered a hobby, and I have had to learn to agree to disagree.

3. AWARENESS OF TIME. You know what was weird this year? Christmas. Christmas was weird. Because when you’re in school, especially a low-res school, and when you’re making your own work schedule, you don’t have things like breaks. No, my school goes all year round. And so when it came to Christmas Break, I didn’t get that feeling of a job well done that is built into a normal person’s work schedule. “Oh, first semester’s over,” said every teacher ever. “Thank God it’s a long weekend,” said everyone else who has a job that doesn’t include children and a classroom. And what did I do? “Oh crap, tomorrow’s Christmas. Maybe I can get to Chapter Twelve revision before going over to Mom and Dad’s for the turkey.” That’s what I did. Is it winter? I don’t know. I think it is.

4. CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT. This all of course culminates together into a hurricane of unusual day-to-day life. When you are a student and you aren’t going to a big-kid job, when what you’re studying isn’t nuclear physics, and when you are on the schedule of a year-round university, all of a sudden you start to wonder if perhaps you’re just the crazy person sitting in their sweatpants on their couch with a bag of Doritos typing nonsense about dragons and robot pirates. For every J.K. Rowling out there, there are forty other women sitting in coffee shops scribbling on napkins and drinking ice water who are definitely insane and delusional. There is a fine line between crazy person who smells like leftover chow mein and someone who will actually be paid for their work. Or nay, maybe not even paid. Just at least published. Okay, well at least given a full request from an agent. A partial?

5. IT’S GOING TO END IN SIX MONTHS. But there’s a reason we do this, right? There’s a reason we’re poor, and there’s a reason we pour our hearts into a gamble. It’s all of those other good things I mentioned. A lot of people are never going to get the chance to study writing with as much vigor as an MFA student. A lot of people can’t find a way to make terminal degrees a reality. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in August, but I’m going to have to rejoin the real world in some capacity. So let us enjoy it while it lasts. And learn how to stop worrying in the meantime.


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