Going to graduate school for creative writing can be scary. Writing can be a very lucrative career, but it also might not pay off. When planning on getting an MFA, here are the best ways to make the most of it.
1. Take as many workshops as possible. And with as many different instructors as possible. And in as many genres as possible. Workshops are an incredible tool to have at a one’s disposal. They teach you how to take criticism, how to write in different genres in different ways, they help you find your thesis advisor, they help you make friends and colleagues, and they help you to write as much as you possibly can. When you get into the flow of a creative writing workshop, you are also able to keep up with one while standing on your head. This is great to pad your schedule out when you get busy, while being an invaluable experience for a writer.
2. Work on the literary journal. If your MFA program has a literary journal, work on it. Even if it is for one semester only. Working for a literary journal is extremely time consuming, but it is great experience to have. It teaches you the ins and outs of literary publishing. It looks great on a resume. It is a great experience to find the perfect story, essay or poem for the journal and know that you found that amazing piece of writing. And most importantly, it shows you what is out there and what other people are submitting. This can be a confidence booster for sure!
3. Get teaching experience. When thinking in the long term, teaching experience is absolutely necessary. Teaching is an important, stressful but rewarding job. And more than that, it can pay the bills while you try to get your writing published. To get a master’s degree without teaching is a waste of the opportunity and the experience.
4. Give readings. If your program has a reading series, or your community has readings in the local coffee shop once a month, or even if a friend in the program throws informal parties where everyone drinks wine and reads their work aloud, reading experience is essential. You can fine tune your presence, and have others give you tips on how well you read your work aloud. Also, you can find errors better when you hear your work read aloud.
5. Submit to everything. Submit to as many literary journals (I’ve written a guide here), and literary contests as you can. Even if what you wrote doesn’t feel quite finished to you yet. Get in the habit of sending your work out into the world, and get into the habit of getting rejected every now and then. You could win money, you could get published too. But you need to take advantage of the time while you’re in school and writing a whole heck of a lot to also try to publish that lot.
6. And apply for everything. There may be scholarships, or summer writer’s conferences that would teach you even more about writing. And being in grad school, you will have access to info about them. When you get those emails from the department, don’t ignore them. Apply for as much as you can.
7. Go to AWP. AWP is a huge writer’s conference. It is insanity. But it is also a great way to meet a lot of people, and make a lot of connections. You also get to meet some of the great writer’s and hear them talk and read and lecture. Also, there is an AWP contest that you could win!