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Writing, Post-MFA: Advice from the Field

About a year ago I attended “Life after MFA,” an all-day seminar held by my MFA program. I found these notes while transcribing my old class notes (a small, useful project I’ve been busy with since last fall), and they make a nice follow-up to my earlier post, Being Able to Write.

General Advice

The day after you turn in your thesis, begin writing something new.

It’s a “slow, rude struggle” to continue writing.

No perfect time to write ever arrives.

The most important thing a writer can have is literary friends.

It’s really important to have a regular part of the day when you can write.

Schedule your writing time.

When you are writing regularly and getting a lot done, your other job will be a lot easier to do.

Writers’ colonies and grants

Apply in the winter for the summer sessions.

50% of the colony slots go to people who’ve already been there

Small writing grants can be good; even if you can’t stop working, a grant could allow you to work fewer hours per week for a while so you can focus on your piece.

Submitting nonfiction pieces

Look in the back of the latest Best American Essays; see the journals they read.

Read the magazines you are submitting to.

Subscribe to the journals you submit to.

Find a writer close to the work you’re doing, and see where he or she is published.

Know your audience; know where your work would fit.

Be organized; track your submissions.

Send a piece out as soon as it comes back.

A quality piece of nonfiction will always get published.

Don’t try to fit a piece to the magazine—stay in your own style.

Do not revise a rejected work based on the suggestions of the magazine that rejected it.

Research the magazine you’re submitting to.

Everyone originally gets published from the slush pile.

Don’t sweat over simultaneous submissions. Just send out your pieces.

You can sell a nonfiction book based on a strong proposal and sample chapters. You need a good introductory letter. Research competing books and explain why yours is different.

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