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?
In the period that I was applying to MFA programs, a couple of beta readers were reading an early draft of my novel. It just so happened that I finished my applications around the same time that they finished reading and gave me feedback, so I threw myself into rewriting the novel. It was the perfect distraction because while I didn’t feel up for generating new work at the time, I felt like rewriting was something I could actually do. So I spent most of December and January wrestling with edits. And then, having decided that MFA application anxiety was, y’know, not quite crippling enough, I decided to query agents as well. Querying agents was a whole different level of anxiety and I definitely don’t recommend this. On hindsight, my social media / email addiction really started around this period of time, when I was constantly checking draft for MFA news, stalking agents on Twitter and obsessively refreshing my email. So I wouldn’t say to do what I did, but maybe some version of this. E.g. if you don’t feel up to writing new work, find some existing piece of writing that you can throw yourself into and wrestle with. Or if you have another project (new filing system, redecorating your room, exercising, adopting a cat), that can be helpful to take your mind off the wait.
What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying?
Aim high, aim for your dream schools — even if you don’t get in, you can always apply again next year. Don’t rule out schools because you think you won’t get in. It’s so hard to know where we ‘stand’ as writers, if that even makes sense as a concept. I’d been writing about 3 years when I applied to MFAs and was convinced I would get rejected everywhere; after all, my journal acceptance rate was dismal (around 0.5%, maybe less) at the time. Surely MFA programs would be more difficult to get into than the lit journals that they house (I now know this is not true for a variety of reasons, one of them being I am still getting rejected by lit journals housed in programs that accepted me). I ended up getting into several programs which I hadn’t expected at all, but if I hadn’t, I would’ve applied again next year, and the next. So I guess the same advice applies to MFA applications as to writing in general: persist.
Biggest high? Biggest low?
What would you do differently if you could apply all over again?
I would try to be kinder to myself. Often I felt like it was life or death when I was applying, while on hindsight, the MFA application process and the MFA itself are just steps in what is (hopefully) a long journey as a writer. I would try to remember that regardless of the application outcome, I had managed to write fiction on my own for years. Even if I didn’t get into an MFA, I would just keep chipping away. I would still be a writer, and no rejection could take that from me.