This is what you should do besides paying off any loans you may now have, or continue to tell people why you got it and what you can do with it.
Most common phrases for when achieving long(ish) term goals:
- Yes! Time to Celebrate!
- I think I need a nap.
- Now what?
At the end of August (2015), I successfully completed a program for my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore.
I’m fortunate, and I’m aware of it. I have a book that I created and self-published, some new friends, a place to live, and food to eat. I also have a full time job (outside of my field). I recently and successfully applied for income-based repayment for my student loans, which there are plenty of.
Not many people leaving graduate school can say all of these things, and I know this well.
Most people after grad school are:
- Working somewhere outside of their field.
- Going back to school because they couldn’t find work.
When I graduated, I was approaching the end of an employment contract with a job that I only got because they liked that I was a student. With the fear of losing my job before my loans kicked in, I began to feverishly apply to positions in my field of writing and some design positions as well. And then I applied to everything else that came up as hiring within a certain livable price-range.
Honestly, I thought that with some editor experience and my Masters, I was a shoe in for something, anything. I only ever received rejection letters from potential employers, if they responded at all.
It was late November. I sat in a half-wall cubicle behind two monitors, inputting numbers from one spreadsheet onto another. My boss’ office door lay open, her desk out of sight behind a wall. I wasn’t paying attention as she suddenly appeared beside me.
“I wanted to let you know that we’re hiring someone for a position to take on some of your responsibilities,” she said, “and then in January we’re converting you to regular employment.”
“What?” I said, looking up and thinking she was telling me that I was fired, but then I realized what she was saying, “I mean, thank you!”
What is the most common problem that occurs after you complete an MFA?
- You become a homeless professor.
- You become too successful for your own good.
- You feel burned out and/or stop writing altogether.
If you answered 1, you’re probably a cynic. If you answered 2, I think I’ll have to write something about being a writer in the future. If you answered 3, well, just no. But if you answered 4, then you’re absolutely and unfortunately correct.
I’ve known some beautiful people with great talent give up the craft. It’s a difficult one to try and tackle, and it’s not rare for people to be discouraged or realize it’s not for them. The thing about the MFA that I think makes it so common to stop writing is how much you’ve been doing. It’s a lot. There’s also an issue with going from something that is highly structured to keep you constantly writing and then going into a world where it is difficult to find time to do anything at all.
Let’s not forget that the job market for writing is challenging, if not impossible, to break into. That is, unless you know someone somewhere who also knows a few people, your chances are slim.
It’s easy to see why someone would stop, especially if you have a book already. Why do you need to do anything else? And that’s dangerous. Pretty soon you might start thinking that there’s nothing else you need to do in your life except work, grow old and die.
I am a perfectionist. Nothing satisfies me. Not my book. Not this.
What did I do? In case you were wondering.
Here are some things:
- I networked. I reached out to the head of my communications department at my place of employment, joined the list of freelance writers, and am in talks with starting a blog with them. I even have my first assignment with them coming up this month.
I also recommend going to local reading series. I suggest striking up a conversation with anyone who looks like they’re a part of it or anyone at all, and see if there’s any way that you can join in or start something yourself. If you need help finding one, you can usually look on Facebook for nearby events or local coffee shops. No, seriously.
- I motivated myself. I told myself stopping now would be as good as failing. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I was not ready to give up on writing altogether.
- I was motivated by others. I saw how other people succeeded and wanted to do the same.
- I bought pocket-sized journals that I could fill out, and then determined to write in it every day for at least a page or two.
- I asked a friend what to do. Hence what you’re reading.
Because I didn’t want to list more than 5 things:
I also gave myself time to want to write again. It’s important, I think, to do this after an MFA. You don’t want to risk that writing burnout. But you shouldn’t let it go on too long either. You don’t want to end up putting it off for the rest of your life.
Use and benefit from all that hard work you put into that degree or the work that you’ve done already. It can be challenging, but it’s worth it. Another great aspect is that if you do go into an MFA, you will produce more writing than you will know what to do with. You’ll have the time to write, and you’ll have to write. If you attend one, take advantage of this.
And you can do all that too! If you have any suggestions to add to this, please post them in the comments.
Here’s the thing:
In regards to those considering, I don’t want this to influence anyone one way or another. I don’t want people to be persuaded into or dissuaded out of attending an MFA program. But I’m still going to touch upon my experience nonetheless.
Would I do it again?
- Ask again later.
Without sounding too much like a Magic 8 Ball, I’ll tell you the answer is A. I don’t want to be misleading here. It’s not a difficult yes, but it’s still a yes. I have new skills, experiences, and relationships that I would have never had without going into a program. I will never forget these times, and I will cherish all that I’ve gained.
But there are important things to consider before going. There are important things to ask yourself before you even think of applying. This is a major life decision and you shouldn’t make it lightly. I didn’t.
The real questions are:
- Where you are in your life/Are you ready for this?
- Do you think your writing would improve with this program?
- What are your goals?
- I was ready for a challenging commitment.
- I didn’t feel that I could learn much more about writing on my own.
- My goals were pretty simple, to write.
Thus, the stars did align. How do they look for you?