good advice

From Tom Kealey’s pragmatic MFA Weblog, I found Sarah Gold’s MFA article entitled, “So You Want an MFA?” Here are some excerpts:

1) Try not to compare yourself to your classmates too much. Graduate programs attract all kinds of writers, from people who’ve yet to send their first story out for submission to people who already have agents and are negotiating book contracts. The thing to remember is there will likely always be people whose work is more impressive — and less so — than yours. If you’re a seasoned writer, be humble; if you’re a novice, have faith in your own craft. No matter what your level of achievement in the field, you can all learn from each other, if you let yourselves.

2) If you want individual attention, go out and get it. Most professors who teach in graduate writing programs are very busy people — they may be working on books of their own, writing articles for magazines, teaching at other colleges or raising families as well as instructing you in the classroom. So expecting them to pursue you when it comes to talking about your writing can be, well, unrealistic. If you want an instructor’s time, take advantage of his or her office hours, or if that’s not possible, get his or her home phone number (you are entitled to ask for this) and schedule a meeting off campus at a bookstore or cafe. You may feel that, given the amount of tuition you’re paying, you shouldn’t have to be so dogged about hunting your professors down. But think: If they can hook you up with an editor who might publish your work, or make an important observation about a piece you’re working on, isn’t that worth buying them a cup of coffee?

3) Give the sort of feedback you want to get. If you’d like to have your peers edit your work thoroughly and effectively, pay careful attention to theirs. Anyone who gets back a paper from you covered with comments and insights will feel rotten returning yours without the same.

4) Understand that there are going to be people you don’t like. Writers, for the most part, have egos like helium balloons: inflated, but easily punctured. When any group of such people are thrust together — especially to engage in the pursuit they care about most — things can get ugly. There may be some writers whose work offends you. Others may not get your work, or may be callous in commenting upon it. So once you’ve sussed out who’s who in your program, don yourself a little light armor. Listen to everyone, but only take seriously those people whom you feel can really understand you and help you with your writing.

5) Remember, no guarantees. Whatever you have to do to resign yourself to this, do it before you write the first tuition check, or apply for the student loans. Otherwise, you’ll spend the duration of your program feeling pressured — and not many of us can create great art under those circumstances. Try to convince yourself that, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen after you graduate, time spent pursuing something you love is never wasted. Even if it’s expensive. And if you manage to do all these things, and still find you have regrets sometimes — well, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone. Worrying, after all, is part of what makes you a writer.

I’m almost through my program, and have learned some of those lessons already…but find the article still very interesting and helpful; in certain ways it validates my experience, in other ways, it pushes me to make more of my very short time left.

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1 Comment

Filed under MFA, Reading, Writing

One response to “good advice

  1. Oh god, I just do not pursue my professors – Goddess, New Young Hot Female Writer, and certainly not New Young Hot Male writer since I haven’t taken his classes. Goddess is acting very overwhelmed. NYHFW is also extremely busy but she likes me, she likes my work. And there’s only one semester left! I had better get on this.

    The only one I feel ok about going to is our mutual prof, “Mom.” She’s the same age as my mom and just very similar to her. Plus she doesn’t vibe “busy and overwhelmed.” She’s a terrific mentor. I felt like going into her today to confess that I’ve read Mel Levine and accept that I’m terminally disorganized.

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