Applying to an MFA program II: Are you ready?

Welcome to part II of our “Applying to a Creative Writing MFA program” series. Yesterday, we asked ourselves the tough questions about whether or not we feel we’re ready for an MFA. Today we have three goal-orientated ways to prepare yourself for a two- or three-year lifestyle of late nights writing like mad and reading like crazy:

Take a writing class to get your feet wet.

I’d been out of college four full semesters by the time I started thinking about going back for my grad degree. It had been just as long since I took a writing workshop, let alone since I was writing regularly. I spent the 2004 fall semester commuting from Cheyenne to the University of Wyoming forty-five minutes away in Laramie every Tuesday night for a fiction/nonfiction writing workshop.

This helped me remember what it’s like to write under deadline, how to give helpful oral and written comments on peer work, how to receive criticism, read and analyze novels academically, give writing prompts a try, and network with other writers. I’d done all of this before, but it had been a while, and it was high-time I exercised those writing, social, and academic muscles once again.

Cost-wise, I was lucky; I worked at a community college with a reciprocal discount tuition plan for employees. Between an application fee and reduced tuition, I ended up with three transferable grad school credits for around $55. I applied directly to the grad school office as a non-degree seeking grad student so they knew how I wanted the credits to fit on a transcript, and I recommend you take the same route.

Take writing workshops whenever you can.

Get a workshop group together. Scour the paper or online for a workshop in your area. Attend a writer’s conference. Any organized excuse to write is an excuse you should run up to and bear hug.

Again, I lucked out at the community college where I worked, this time twice. The new theater instructor brought out one of her fellow MA classmates, Clay McCleod Chapman, for a workshop and reading / performance. Next, some grant money afforded us poet Robert Bly to travel out to Wyoming for a writing workshop, a reading, and a dinner party. In the course of one year, I learned from two writers, one young and just entering the publishing world, and one experienced and revered, in positive workshop settings. You can’t go wrong with that one-two combo.

Write every day.

This should be a no-brainer, but if this suggestion surprised you let me posit you may not be ready for an MFA. I spent two of my three years in-between my undergrad and grad degrees writing and directing eight plays. That means I was writing steadily and under deadline, and always with an audience in mind; I believe being able to put this active writing lifestyle in my letter of intent helped get me into a program. If you’re not writing every day, just forget it.

Today’s Action Item: Register for a class!

Go online and research writing workshops and literary analysis classes at colleges in your area. Seek a class which sounds interesting, fits your schedule, is affordable, and register for it! Perhaps take time to email the instructor or speak with an on-campus adviser about the class.

Tomorrow we organize your application process.


[tags]mfa application, creative writing mfa, grad school application, writing class, write every day[/tags]

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