Life After the MFA Archive

This archive contains messages from our new Life After the MFA email series. This year-long series is devoted to the many concerns and questions graduates have about leaving their creative writing program to enter the wider world. Each month, AWP will deliver the sage advice of accomplished writers who have been where graduates and other emerging writers are now.

  • June 2018 — Life After the MFA Series: Looking Toward the Future
  • July 2018 — Life after the MFA Series: Finding a New Writing Community
  • August 2018 — Life after the MFA Series: Finding a Writerly Job, Part 1

Below is a copy of our June 2018 email, as an example of the content in this series:

June 2018

Have you recently graduated from an MFA program or are you nearing graduation? Or, are you a few years out of your MFA program and feeling unfocused, unsure about your next professional steps, or in need of some motivation to complete that manuscript, land your dream job, find a writing community, or become a literary citizen? Then the Life after the MFA series was created for you.
 
This is the first email in a year-long series devoted to newly-minted MFA graduates. These emails will be dedicated to addressing the variety of concerns you might have about leaving your program and entering the world. Each month, for an entire year, AWP will deliver sage advice from accomplished writers who have been where you are now, as well as useful resources that will help you gain the knowledge to:

  • pursue an academic career path,
  • secure an agent,
  • publish your writing,
  • market and promote your work,
  • and cultivate a writing life.

With our first email, we begin with Roxane Gay’s list of The Eight Questions Writers Should Ask Themselves. Here, Gay asks the big questions: “Are you more invested in the business of publishing than the practice of writing?” and “How will you deal with failure?” Think of it as a launch pad for developing your own writing/living philosophy.
 
In a similar vein, Andrew Solomon’s The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers examines Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet as a guide to cultivating joy when lingering in the unknown and living without experience. Solomon advocates for learning to be content in the middle of things. When Solomon says “young,” think “early career.”
 
You’ve likely heard that the expectations and reality of post-MFA life do not always jibe. Here are three takes from MFA grads on feeling unmoored and finding your place in the world with an MFA in your back pocket:

After the MFA: Fantasy, Reality, and Lessons Learned by Erika Dreifus in Poets & Writers, September/October 2014
 
5 Writers Offer Lifelines for Post-MFA Despair by Bryan Furuness in Brevity’s online feature Craft Essays, May 2013
 
Life After the MFA: Teaching Writing, and Making the Best of It by Kate McCahill, a guest post in Catherine J. Campbell’s blog, October 2016

Finally, in her essay Seeking the Work-Life-Writing Balance Post-MFA (from AWP’s Career Advice blog) Kirsten Clodfelter examines “what happens after the theses have been bound and graduation-cap tassels have been turned” and discusses how not to lose sight of maintaining a balance between work and writing.

That’s all for our first email in the series. We’ll leave you with some prudent advice about how to anchor yourself while padding your CV from AWP board trustee Rigoberto Gonzalez, poet and professor of English at Rutgers-Newark:
“I always advise my MFA graduate students, particularly poets, to diversify their portfolios even before they leave the program, meaning to venture into book reviewing, essay writing, and even interviewing. It's a good way to generate income, to stay connected to the profession, and to keep the mind engaged between writing projects or during dry spells. Some young writers resist this notion, saying that it's too much of a distraction or too time consuming, but I remind them that once they leave the writing program they have to find ways to contribute to the artistic community, otherwise it becomes more and more challenging to remain productive outside of workshop deadlines. The anxiety for many recent graduates is that they will feel unmoored. Well, this is one way to deal with that, and to build a professional CV in the process.”

Keep an eye out for our July email where we review advice on Finding Your Own Literary Community after the workshops are over.
 
Best regards,
 
Kathy Ridenhour
Senior Membership Associate