Month: March 2016

So What Should I Do Over Summer?

With notes about final projects, workshop deadlines, and annotated bibliographies scattered across the month of April on my Google Calendar, the end of the first year of my MFA program at Alabama is well within sight. Many of you reading this may also be consumed with making a decision on an MFA program by the April 15 deadline or the prospect of applying for MFA programs against next year.   The vast majority of MFA programs are at least 2 to 3 years long, however, and with summer breaks often lasting for several months, the decision of what to do with that time can be almost as significant and rewarding as the MFA itself (both financially and creatively).   One of the first big questions to ask yourself when thinking about summer plans is about location. Where do you want to be over summer? Do you plan to stick around wherever your MFA program is located or to go elsewhere? What financial opportunities are available if you plan to stick around? What creative opportunities are …

Lit-Cit; a no-brainer.

  Lit-Cit; a no-brainer I’m doing laundry. I hope I have time for a haircut before my flight to L.A and AWP, baby. Excited, to say the least. Before entering the MFA world, I had no idea about writer’s conferences, let alone AWP. What’s the point? Shouldn’t all true writing be done in a garret or a remote log cabin far from the bustle locust? In our last fiction workshop, led by Lori Ostlund (read her, her writing f-ing rocks) we discussed literary citizenship. Another new concept. And lickety-split, here I am riding the catch-phrase bandwagon, ticket purchased from Ms. Google, into definitions, debates and diatribes. This search lead me back to AWP, there will be a workshop on Saturday by Lori A. May author of The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and The Writing Life. The tenants are surprisingly obvious: Write charming notes to authors, check. Interview literary folks you respect, check. Read journals and subscribe, check. Write reviews, check. Buy books and rave about them, check (Aaron Reeder’s first book DAWN, just out by …

On Making the Most of AWP

There’s just over a month left of the first year of my MFA and this is the busiest time of the semester. I’ve just returned from a relaxing spring break vacation to Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and tomorrow I leave for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Los Angeles. This will be my third year attending. When I started my MA in 2013, I didn’t know much about networking as a writer (hey there, still don’t). Luckily, some of the PhD students in my program told me all about AWP, insisting that it’s best and biggest event for writers to attend. “A trip sounds nice,” I told my friend, Claire, as I prepared for my first AWP conference in 2014.  “It will be nice to get away and relax.” “I don’t know if it’s that kind of trip,” she said. And Claire was right. AWP certainly isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, it’s chaotic, and it’s over in a blink of an eye. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a  current or prospective …

Attending ICFA Three Months Before Graduation

  This weekend, I attended ICFA for the first time. So I suffer from Impostor Syndrome, and I swore all of my interactions were going to go like this: But actually, because everyone is so cool and we writers are all nerdy masochists who love our art, it ended up like this:   I got to present on a panel about Alternate History in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and it went really well. I got to talk about my thesis and talk about other people’s projects. We went to a bunch of presentations and listened to cool papers and hung out by the pool, and the best BBQ comes three hours late after long talks about injustice and mini-lessons on ASL. I got to get some great advice from some great mentors, listen to people’s new projects, and grab all of the books I could possible fit into my suitcase. Everyone is trying to figure it out, trying to fight for what they believe in, trying to reach out and share ideas and grow as …

REJECTED: The Five Stages of Post-Application Season Grief

Photo credit: Caro Wallis You did your research (or didn’t). You perfected your sample (or didn’t). You sought out recommenders that knew your work well (or didn’t). Okay, you get the idea. Whether you feel like you gave this MFA application season your all or felt like you shortchanged yourself, if you didn’t end up getting into a program you wanted (or a program at all), you may be feeling pretty down right now. For those of you who may have a fuzzy, nonexistent back-up plan, I crowd-sourced a few of our favorite MFA Years bloggers for their own advice re: moving on during the gap year(s). The following is what I call The Five Stages of Post-Application Season Grief, a combination of my own and others’ thoughts on this dark, dark period. I’m sure many of you have more or fewer stages than I list here, completely different stages altogether, or no stages at all (cue meme with little cartoon dog on fire). TL:DR? You’re going to be okay. Stage One: “I suck and …

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Lauren Sharkey

Image credit: Selbe Lynn For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? I definitely struggled through the post application period.  In all honesty, I think the waiting is the hardest part.  At least the writing you can control. The admissions process is unfair in that it is not a synchronized event.  Acceptances, rejections, and wait list notifications go out at different time intervals.  Some say it’s alphabetical, but the truth is that no one really knows when you’re going to hear or why.  My advice would be to avoid forums like GradCafe and MFA Draft on Facebook.  Seeing live updates will drive you to insanity.  Unless you have a letter, e-mail, or phone call, do not lose hope.  Believe in yourself.  Trust your work. What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying? “Keep the faith, Lauren.  This is a journey.  Journeys are inherently …

Next Year

by Lara Prescott It’s mid-February and you haven’t seen an acceptance yet. You’re checking Facebook ten (OK, twenty) times a day for word on acceptances. You’ve resorted to Googling people who’ve gotten in so you can compare your work to theirs. You’ve succumbed to Grad Café rumors. On the day you get rejected from Michigan, you lock yourself out of the house and have to walk barefoot in your pajamas down an iced-over sidewalk in a town you hate to fetch a locksmith. It can’t get any worse. But it does. March brings a smattering of more rejections and you call your mother to tell her that you’re just not good enough. She feels your pain, and tells you so, but wonders why you’d want to go back to school in your 30s in the first place, which she doesn’t tell you. In April, you get accepted to a school you can’t afford. It feels good for a minute. Then you do the math. On the day you receive your final rejection—from a school that misspells …

The Writing Center

Image: Bruce Guenter I work at the Writing Center this semester, instead of teaching, which has been a quiet relief. I don’t feel the rush, almost manic sense of urgency like I did last semester, juggling teaching, my classes, and my writing. I am a tutor at the Writing Center for 10 hours per week. Students make 30-minute or hour-long appointments or they just walk in. I meet with them one-on-one to help them at whatever point they are in the writing process, from organizational strategies to grammar and mechanics improvement on the sentence-by-sentence level. I work with students from a variety of backgrounds. Some are undergraduates, graduates, or PhD candidates. I’ve read English 101 papers to history papers to civil engineering dissertations. As the semester progresses, some students have set up regular appointments with me. I like this part of the job because you can build a relationship with the student, get to know their writing style, and track their progress. Working one-on-one with students has made me feel like I’m meeting more of …

A Map of Influence

Image: Pietro Bellini To complete the first semester and thus 50% of this MFA program, we had two final projects. One was the first draft of the thesis (!!!!!), and the other, a curated collection of 35 poems—not our own—that are personally important in some way. The anthology was to be modeled after Robert Pinsky’s book Singing School, in which each poem is accompanied by a brief annotation explaining its inclusion. We in the cohort exchanged our anthologies with each other; this was so we could learn about the diverse influences that drive our group and see where there may be intersections. Surprisingly, there were very few—no one poet, other than our professors, was included in everyone’s anthology. It was a testament to the expansiveness of the poetic tradition, as well as the diversity of our group. I found this to be a super helpful exercise in mapping out my influences and articulating their impact. It was also humbling to realize the limitations of my reading: the plurality of poets I’d selected were living white …

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With David O’Connor

Image credit: Giovani Racca For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? Ah waiting, waiting, waiting–is a choice. I applied to 10 programs from Rio de Janeiro. I was single, teaching ESL and managing an Irish Pub. The World Cup had just finished and I had enough savings to walk away and write. I found a position through Workaway that would cover my room and board for four hours of daily labor. I picked the remotest, most beautiful place that would have me and went there to write a novel. I ended up writing poems and reading too much Bolano. I could not put down 2666, which says much about my mindset. I applied for fiction but now I only wanted to write poems. I was anxious and angry. I wrote some good stuff. The rejections started to roll in and I almost bought a fisherman’s …