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Life after MFA

“Finding/creating a writing community is really important; you have to find some way to connect your life to the writing life.” – A wise instructor

Like most MFA students, I live in fear that post-MFA, I will never write again, at least not creatively. Some of this has to do with how artificially structured our writing life has been during the program, as if most writers sat around saying, “You know, it’s time for me to practice writing an essay of ‘place,'” or had Post-Its reading “Attempt lyric essay” stuck on their office phones. Even the MFA Major Project is odd for anyone not working in a long form. I’m not going to write twenty related essays, at least on spec; I’m going to write what I have to say and shlep it out early and often.

But nevertheless, we’ve all met them: the MFA graduate who hasn’t written a word since graduation; the recent graduates who start an informal workshop right after graduation, plunge in with great enthusiasm, but a few months later find themselves writing in dispiriting solitude, sucked into the downward spiral of uncertainty and insecurity about one’s craft, punctuated by the sucker-punch of regular rejection letters. We also know that as much as we love to write, need to write, and feel the best about ourselves when we are writing, most of us have to wrestle with our lives to fit in serious quality time for “craft.”

We might even feel guilty about the time spent on the MFA that could have been spent on work or family (“we” at this point clearly referring to me and the mouse in my pocket), and have made lavish promises of time commitments for Life After MFA (I’ll roof the house, all by myself! I’ll make fresh cheese and bake bread every week!) that will make it even harder to carve out time to write.

So I have begun to ask instructors and other students about Life After MFA. It makes me feel better (and like most writing, it’s a terrific diversion for anything I don’t really want to do, like housework or taxes). Below is the first version of Life After MFA; I’d greatly appreciate suggestions and observations.

Starting and Sustaining a Workshop

Here are ideas an instructor shared with me:

1) Keep the workshop to a small, committed group of people whom you really trust

2) Set a sacred time for meetings, say once a month or however often you plan to meet, and set that time aside for yourselves every month, booking, for instance, every second Wednesday, or at least choosing a meeting time together a month in advance

3) Bring food

4) Don’t try to do too much, but you might consider setting aside time once in a while to talk about journals/publishing venues/writers conferences, etc.

5) Occasionally meet for other purposes, such as to attend readings

6) Ask other writers how they sustain their writing groups

Workshop Guidelines (cobbled from various sources)

1) Start a group with people you know and trust, writing in your genre

2) Agree in advance on the rules of the workshop (when work is submitted, how workshop is conducted)

3) Submit work in advance (no on-the-spot submissions)

4) Submit written feedback on other writers’ work

5) Schedule time carefully so everyone gets discussed

6) Always bring a copy of your own submission

7) Have at least one person be the gatekeeper for time, staying on topic, etc.

8) Begin by stating “the heart of the piece”

9) Encourage, don’t discourage, but give useful input

10) Leave time to share what you’re writing, what you’re reading, and where you’ve submitted

11) Find close writing friends to share with one on one

12) No matter what, write anyway.

What would you add?

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