Image: Kevin West
So you got into a MFA program? The stress of assembling your list of schools, perfecting your writing portfolio, and making sure all of your letter of recommendations have been sent are left behind. Your hopes and dreams have come true. Now that you have accepted the one school that suits your needs your first thought is that you have nothing else to worry about. This thought will last you approximately 1.28 seconds.
The moment after I told Virginia Tech that I was attending in the Fall, there was a rush of panic that went through me. Do I have enough substantial work? Will my cohort and I get along? Should I have applied again next year? Will I be living under a rock come August? Should I be working or writing in the summer? When I reflected on my summer experience and the beginning of the first year of my MFA I kept asking myself, what should I be doing right now? This post is geared towards those of you who are currently in your first semester or those of you who are future students. Here are some of the things I have found myself and other classmates asking:
Should I be working over the summer?
I was lucky enough to have a landscaping job in which I dictated the hours I wanted to work. I still have a wicked brotank tan so that’s pretty sweet. Plus, I ended up living at my parents since I was signing a new lease for the big move. To be honest, I didn’t do too much writing. I got to do some traveling, visited NYC, and got to spend time with friends. Along the way, I kept a writer’s diary where I jotted down bits and pieces of phrases, even put some mini plot/poetry ideas in there as well.
If you feel like you can’t write, then do a good alternative and read instead. If there are a couple professors in the program whose work you don’t feel accustomed to, purchase one of their books.
One thing I’ll stress on is to make sure to give yourself time for things that are immediate concerns in the program. For instance, finding a place to live. I know some of my classmates struggled at first trying to come up with even an apartment that had openings. There is only so many times you can press the refresh button on Craigslist. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
The program has started, what should I do?
Just like Cady Heron’s first day, the first day can be a blur, a stressful surreal blur. You are thrown into a world of workshops, publishing, and thesis. Although we technically asked for it, just like the contestants of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette who signed up for the show but later realize that it’s not what they expected, this process can be information overload. It’s also thrilling at the same time.
Some things I’ve found helpful is to get to know your cohort. You’re all in the same boat together, so why not row with one another to safety? The majority, maybe if not all, will be starting fresh in a new town just like you. The move is nerve wracking in itself, especially if you think you feel like you don’t know anyone who will be there. Besides Facebook stalking before formally meeting them, don’t be afraid to send out that friend request. I started a FB message thread with my entire cohort and I feel like it helped the friendships that we have now exponentially.
Another suggestion is to get involved within the university. The MFA lifestyle is wonderful, but it’s also nice to distance yourself from it from time to time. You can volunteer at the writing center or join a graduate club. Find a local book reading club in the city you are living in. For myself, I joined a LGBT magazine on campus, where I currently serve as a creative writing editor which makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose. I get to support a minority group all while still using my talents outside of the program itself.
Most importantly, as cheesy as it sounds, try to have fun while you are in your program. It is rare to be in a community where everyone is supportive of one another and you get a chance to write. You chose the program for a reason and the program chose you. With all this stress that is coming your way, remind yourself that. Your writing is wanted. You are wanted.