2017, Archives, July 2017, The MFA Years

First Year MFA Survival Guide

Photo Credit: Brenna Daughtery

It’s the middle of summer and time is flashing before our very eyes. Let me the one to tell you that someone can constantly beat you over the head about how precious and short your time is during your MFA experience. Even after your entire first year you can still be blown away by this very fact. And yet, after being attending workshops and classes you can feel like you’re still at the tip of the iceberg in regards to the literary community as to what it has to offer. It’s a growing/learning process. When reflecting on my year, I have compiled a survival list that can be paired with the many other survival lists that will help those who are approaching their first year at an MFA program. It’s a crazy, but exciting literary world out there (almost as crazy as a zombie infested world). You can never have too many tips and trips to keep your body afloat.

  1. Read/Reread Past MFA Years Blog Posts

Why? Or should I say, Why not? Just like how you can never have too many survival lists, you can never read too many blog posts from those who have attended or are attending an MFA program. There are posts coming from writers in separate genres/schools, who are in different stages in their MFA, and those who are recently graduated. Of course not one experience is the same as someone else’s, but it’s interesting to see instances where thoughts and opinions overlap. Take note of them. You will most likely face them yourself in the near future.

  1. Update Your CV

CV–the dreaded piece of writing where people consciously procrastinate, but yet something that has to be done. Especially if you are thinking about applying for positions in literary magazines, fellowships, or applying to other programs. Aim to add at least one thing to your CV every month, whether that may be getting a new publication or helping out an organization at the school you are attending. This will detract stress and will maybe even boost your confidence in applying for things you never thought of doing.

  1. Be Present in the Literary Community

Even during my undergraduate career, the one thing my advisor chimed time and again was connections, connections, connections. It overwhelmed me in the way she said it, because it sounded more like a boss at a business corporation telling me to sell myself to complete strangers. I’ve now realized to look at it in the lens of just being an all around good human being in a world full of writers. There are easy ways to stand out, for instance if you’re active on social media, don’t be afraid to give a writer/literary magazine a shout out of a poem or story you’ve read of theirs that you absolutely love. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Once people can put a name to a face, it’s hard to get rid of it.

  1. Be Present in Your Program

This is more than actually showing up. Relish in the fact that you are attending classes among those who are pursuing the same degree as you, trying to write the best work they can. Your program supplies a mini literary community in itself (which can be training wheels for point number 3), but it’s only temporary. Or at least, it appears to be temporary. The relationships among those can last past the graduation ceremony. And ho doesn’t want more BWFFL’s (Best Writing Friends For Life)?

  1. Take Notes

There will always be the reminder to keep on writing, despite the potential writer’s block or the upcoming deadline for an assignment that is keeping you away from your writerly duties, but you should be writing more than just your thesis in mind. Take notes of writing prompts professors give you. If you are teaching, keep a record of activities and assignments you have done and when attending readings and craft talks, jot down the things that inspire you. All of these notes will come in handy come time you do have the writer’s block that was just mentioned and for when you are trying to remember that one activity that sparked your past students to be active in class discussions. This saves extra time and energy.

  1. Ask Questions

There are not enough MFA/writing survival guides out there that can answer every possible question that you may have. It’s okay to ask them. Other people are probably thinking or even asking the questions you have in mind, especially for the fact that the literary world is fluid and expands alongside technology. This means certain tips associated to publishing, ways to market oneself, etc. can change slightly or even drastically.

You may have already known or heard all of these things, the things listed should be addressed just like when someone reminds you that time is valuable over and over again. This will help you even past the first year of an MFA program or even past your program itself. Be ever present as can be. If you can’t seem to write, do something that inspires you to write. You can even write your own survival list and follow them yourself. Maybe even share it and help a literary sister out.