This year, I achieved one of my proudest accomplishments: graduating with a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine, Stonecoast Program. Now, a large part of me thought once I finished this program, it would be smooth sailing through the waters of professional writing. The weather would be brutal and the waves choppy, but I had a compass and a map now, so I'd be fine. Right?
Not so much. (Or at least, I think my boat needs more sails.)
Since graduating, it seems I have even more things I want to do and less time to do it in. Don't get me wrong; these are things I am very excited to be doing and are only possible because of all the hard work I've put in so far. However, if you are looking at getting your MFA, or really any high-level degree in Creative Writing, there is something very important you need to know: This is not the end!
It is only the beginning.
So, what have I been doing since graduation? Setting myself up as a real writer. Here are the things which keep me from getting anything else done:
1) Writing - This may seem obvious, but you wouldn't believe that I've actually seen people graduate with an MFA, finish their thesis novel, and then proceed to stop writing altogether. It can be overwhelming when your ship doesn't immediately come into harbor and FedLoans starts coming with hands outstretched. My #1 goal after graduation has been to keep writing all the projects I started AND put on hold for my graduate program. Every day, I set aside 1-2 hours after work to do creative writing on these projects.
2) Submitting - I am currently shopping around my short story, "The Prince and the Nix," which is a tie-in to my Marchenwelt Manuscripts series. I am also applying for composition and creative writing instructor positions in San Diego and online. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay updated with announcements on these fronts!
3) Critiquing - My fellow graduates and I do not want to lose the
incredible community we created in graduate school, so we have set up a critique group which meets biweekly over video chat. We read two peoples' works per week and set goals for ourselves. If there are other writers in your life whose opinion you value, I'd highly recommend setting up this kind of community meeting. Your peers are going to be your greatest asset in your writing life: they support, encourage, and help you through writing obstacles big and small.
4) Reading - Goodreads has this great application that allows you to set a goal for how many books you plan to read that year and then track your progress. I love this and have definitely used it to compete with my writer friends for most-books-read and to see what they're reading. After two years of using the application though, I am starting to see that unless I read a lot more, my list of books to read is never going to decrease. This year, my goal is 70 books, which means I need to read one novel per week, listen to one audiobook per month, and finish one nonfiction book every month. Here we go.
5) Getting "Out There" - Putting myself on the map includes such fun activities running this website and blog. It also includes the IAFA conference I will be attending next month to give a presentation of my paper on the feminist aspects of Cinderella retellings (or lack thereof!). It also means actively looking for events in my area to attend and meet other writers, such as SCBWI meetings. There is often a lot more going on around you than you think. Search online and check your local library for book and writing events!
6) Working - Living in San Diego, CA is not cheap, so I work 40 hours per week at a university registrar office. I am lucky enough to have a job in another field I love: promoting the attainment of higher education. Doing well in this job is important for my aspirations, but it doesn't come home with me. My day job is where I build experience for future careers. Home is where the writing happens.
7) Brainstorming - Since graduation, I have forced myself to work on one project exclusively so that it is ready to send out into the world to find its way into your hands. However, I can't stop the ideas from coming and one of the best things about reading and working outside of your writing life is that ideas come from everywhere! Last week I read the name of a city in California and BAM! My epic fantasy novel that was dead in the water suddenly had a new setting, plot, and energy. Three novel summaries and a brief outline on Scrivener later, and I have my next work-in-progress queuing. It's important not to get caught up in these ideas though. I write them down, then immediately get back to my WIP. Otherwise nothing would ever get done around here.
So that's what graduated grad students do! If you're interested in pursuing an MFA or other higher degree in creative writing, contact me and I will be happy to answer any questions.
Earning my MFA was the best thing I ever did for my writing craft. Now, I am working on the best things for my writing career. For updates on my works-in-progress and never miss a blog post, subscribe to my monthly newsletter!