On Applying to MFA Programs

MFA

Something I discovered junior year was that graduate programs in creative writing exist.  At my current university, there isn’t even a graduate program in English, and no undergraduate major in creative writing at all, only a minor.  This has never been particularly bothersome to me, but I think that because of this, the idea of studying creative writing at the graduate level never really crossed my mind.  I discovered, though, that there are MFA programs in creative writing all across the country, that my current creative writing professors have almost all graduated from one such program, and that a lot of these programs allow students to work with incredibly talented writers while fully funding their students.  I guess you could say that after a bit of looking into MFA programs my thoughts were something along the lines of: mind blown.

Now that I am in my senior year and set to graduate in May, I have been deciding where I want to apply, what my personal statement should say, what pieces of writing I should use as my samples, who to ask for letters of recommendation, where I would actually want to live for the next two or three years, how hard (or easy) it will be to get into different programs, which faculty I would like to work with, and so many other things.  In addition to how time consuming it is to apply to different MFA programs, it is also expensive given the application fees that are required.  It also costs money to send transcripts to each school, and requires me to ask an incredibly big favor of three or four of my instructors so that I have great recommendations.  It’s all a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

While it is a bit much to handle at times, it is also incredibly exciting.  The prospect of going to school for the next several years studying just creative writing and potentially teaching it, or some other sort of English course, while doing so and being surrounded by a community of other writers – some, I’m sure, very well known and some who have never published before, is such an amazing prospect.  I have come to really love and appreciate the academic world of literature and creative writing during my undergraduate years, and I absolutely adore the idea of staying immersed in this world a bit longer – and potentially for a long time afterwards if I teach.

I spoke with one of my instructors yesterday about the prospect and she had a lot of advice for me.  Daunting advice, to be sure, but such useful advice coming from someone who has been where I am before and actually gotten in to one of these MFA programs.  I’m now going to apply to more programs than I was first considering applying to.  I am now going to try almost exclusively for MFA programs rather than MA programs, since she explained that to teach creative writing, an MFA is almost crucial.  She gave me a lot to thing about, but I am still so excited.  I am ready to really get underway with my applications and to start this journey of writing after graduation – whatever that entails.

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On Dabbling

Writing

This semester, I have been dabbling in different forms of creative writing.  My usual focus is fiction, and I tend to drill my thoughts on creative writing so deeply into the framework of fiction that I often don’t consider the other writing forms of poetry and creative nonfiction.  This semester, though, initially by necessity (graduation, anyone?) and now by choice, I have been writing, and reading, lots of poetry and lots of creative nonfiction.

At first I was a bit skeptical.  I absolutely love reading poetry (I even wrote an article about why everyone should read poetry here), but I wasn’t too keen on writing it.  My thoughts on writing poetry have been altered, if only by a little, since then, though.  And as for creative nonfiction, I was, to be honest, completely and utterly new the form.  I thought it would be a bit boring or simply informative, and not much else, as I had come to expect nonfiction to be.  I can say now, though, that creative nonfiction is absolutely magnificent and that I may just be a fiction and nonfiction writer from now on!

Although my mindset has changed when it comes to approaching poetry and creative nonfiction, I’m finding that I am gaining more than just an appreciation for different creative writing forms.  I am learning that do be a great writer – yes, even of purely fiction – I need poetry and creative nonfiction.  I need to not only try my hand at writing it (and fail at writing it in the case of poetry) but I need to appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into different disciplines within the field of creative writing and use what I learn in the process.

Writing, reading, and learning about creative nonfiction has helped me develop a better sense of how to describe.  I’m at least hoping that after this semester, I will be able to distill images and scenes into beautiful masterpieces – something that I can certainly take with me into my fiction writing, and that nonfiction experts seem to do so effortlessly.  Writing, reading, and learning about poetry has made me realize how important words are.  In creative pieces, each word holds weight – and I need to weigh my word choices thoughtfully before placing them in a piece.  Poetry has also taught me the intense and real work that goes into creating something so small but so very, very powerful.  Poets are incredibly gifted, and I have come to admire them as artists even more!

I guess I have been surprised at how beneficial to me as a writer it has been to dabble.  Dabbling in many different things is often seen negatively – as something that only those who are flighty and indisicive do – but I am realizing that dabbling is what helps creative people of any kind grow, and I hope to continue dabbling and learning and writing some more.