2018, Archives, August 2018, The MFA Years

Epilogue: Three Months After the MFA

So here I am. Three months after graduating from an MFA program in Creative Writing. What am I doing with my life? What are my hopes and dreams? What am I wearing?…Wait, what? Why are you asking what I’m wearing?

If any of you read my last post some, oh, seven months ago, you’ll know that I was already thinking about PhD programs/jobs/etc. then The truth is, this has been the most challenging realm of my life to navigate, but I think it’s also important to share, because for every person who graduates from an MFA program and lands their ideal job or gets into their number one PhD program directly after the MFA, there are probably hundreds of others who don’t.

Here’s my story. I knew I wanted to live in my hometown of Los Angeles after graduating. I applied to two PhD programs–the Creative Writing PhD at USC and the Literature PhD with a focus on Speculative Fiction at UC Riverside–and was rejected from both of them. While the idea of doing a PhD appealed to me, it doesn’t really make sense given what I want to do. Sure, part of me loves the idea of continuing my education, but a PhD would mean at least five years of more or less living on a stipend, the most generous of which are still far below what I could make in the working world. Getting a PhD would make me more competitive on the academic job market, of course, except that I want to stay in Los Angeles. With the MFA, I’m already qualified for Lecturer and adjunct positions, and there’s no way I’m going to get a tenure-track professorship in or around Los Angeles, PhD or not, unless I publish very successfully first.

Seven months ago, what I imagined I would most likely be doing is teaching English at the high school level. I did eventually get hired to teach 11th grade English at a private school in Los Angeles for a teacher who will be out on maternity leave (so the position will be mid-August through the beginning of November). In spite of being thankful to have that position, I admit I was extremely humbled by the experience of applying for middle and high school teaching jobs. Even working with two recruiting services and applying to any and every middle and/or high school English and/or Humanities teaching position in the Los Angeles area, I only got two phone interviews. Given my prior experience teaching English and history at an alternative school, my experience teaching writing and literature to college students at the University of Alabama, and my involvement with a number of youth-related nonprofits over the past six years, I thought I would be a shoe-in, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t work out that way. I do plan to continue to apply to positions at private middle and high schools (and potentially public if in the future I opt to get a teaching credential) and I hope that teaching 11th grade English this fall will be a good resume booster. A couple notes–this process would have undoubtedly been easier if my search hadn’t just been restricted to Los Angeles, so if you have room for geographic flexibility, take advantage of that! In addition, living in Los Angeles will enable me to go to networking/jobs conferences in winter and early spring that I wasn’t able to attend last year because I was still living in Tuscaloosa. Finally, the position I did land came through one of the recruiting services I was using, Carney Sandoe, so I would definitely recommend checking them out if you’re interested in teaching at the elementary or secondary level.

By far I had the most luck when opportunities came through word of mouth (I have a feeling that this is partially how the private school hiring process works in LA as well). Right now, in addition to teaching, I have freelance gigs creating content for an ed tech company and ghostwriting romance novels, both of which came through friends/acquaintances. The lesson–networking is huge. It may not always be fruitful, but you never know who’s going to be able to connect you to someone else (sub-lesson–don’t be a sleaze when networking. Only meet up with people who you’re actually interested in getting to know or talking to, especially since most of the time, that’s all it’s going to be–a cup of coffee and conversation, nothing more).

Otherwise, I applied to a variety of other jobs without any hits. I didn’t get interviews for any full-time writing instructor positions at community colleges or for any content writing positions that I found online. I made it to the final interview round for a position at an educational nonprofit and for a position as a part-time lecturer of writing at a local university. I know the phrase is “close but no cigar”; however, I would much rather have a job than a cigar.

I’ve found that one of the most difficult aspects of the job application process is simply not knowing why you’re not getting interviews and/or jobs. In one instance where I happened to have a friend working at the organization who was able to provide me with additional information, I saw how different the narrative could appear from the inside versus the outside. On the inside, I was able to learn that the reason it took so long to hear back about the job was because though I wasn’t offered the job, I was next in line to receive an offer if one of their top candidates declined. On the outside, however, I just received a form rejection email with no information about why it had taken so long to get back to me despite two prior follow-up emails. Since the hiring processes at most entities often lack transparency, it can be challenging to know if there are ways you could improve your application/cover letter/resume/CV/etc. for other positions of that nature. Though I’m not looking forward to having to find another job in November (the freelance gigs aren’t enough to live on), I am grateful for the combination of content creation, ghostwriting, and teaching that I’ll be doing this fall.

Moving on–writing, my writing. How’s that going? The answer is…decently? I have one more short story from my thesis that I want to revise and then I plan to start sending out the collection to book contests in September when the “season” starts up again, which is incredibly exciting if a bit terrifying. In the meantime, after I finish the final draft of the collection, I want to delve back into the novel I had been working on in the MFA. I’m working on a few side projects as well, including writing a segment for a friend’s podcast The Host (think Welcome to Nightvale meets Dr. Frasier Crane) and finishing a draft of the pilot script. It’s been tricky balancing applying to jobs, working, and focusing on my own writing, but now that I have a few months off from applying to jobs, I’m hoping to better develop a routine that balances the writing I do for work and my own projects. I’m trying to be generous with myself in reintroducing aspects of my routine that I had figured out when I was in Tuscaloosa but that fell away during the moving process.

And all the rest? I’m enjoying being back in Los Angeles and reconnecting with my friends here, though of course I’ll miss my many friends from the MFA who I’ll now have to keep in touch with from afar. I’m living with my dad and sister and plan to move out sometime soon, with the hope being that if I live somewhere central-ish in LA, I won’t have to commute too far to any job I may have (luckily, with the teaching and the freelance gigs, I should be able to afford a decent place as long as I find something else to supplement my income when my teaching job ends). I’m dating someone (nothing more on that, don’t want to jinx it). I know from experience that the LA dating scene can certainly be a pain in the ass, but with 4 million people in this city vs. 100,000 in Tuscaloosa, the odds are better. I’ve gotten a few folks together for a prose-based writing group and am joining a screenwriting group made up of alumni from the college I attended. And, of course, while my dog Honey does miss her Tuscaloosa lover Dolly Parsnip, she has found great pleasure in playing with the lemons from my dad’s tree in the backyard and bugging my dad’s dog Charlie until he (grudgingly) plays with her.

I don’t have any real pearls of wisdom. I can tell you that I’m glad I did the MFA and I’m glad I went to Alabama and I’m glad to be living in Los Angeles again. I plan to live here for the time being, working and writing my ass off and trying to publish, y’know, just generally being a human.

The transition out of the MFA can be hard, moving to a new city, trying to be gainfully employed, finding a place to live that doesn’t break the bank, reestablishing your writing routine, so be gentle with yourself. And if you want to continue writing? Write. Nobody will be there to make you write or to write for you. It has to be you.

Currently Cooking: Adobo chicken tacos with a vegetable hash and a berry crisp for dessert

Currently Watching: Sorry to Bother You (go see that movie now if you haven’t!)

Currently Listening: Tezeta (an Ethiopian band combining jazz, soul, and Ethiopian melodies–thanks Matt and Sarah for introducing me to them!)

Currently Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (somehow this was never required reading for a course, definitely recommend) and Dare Me by Megan Abbott (perfect for those who like the idea of reading a dark thriller about cheerleaders)

So long and good luck!