The MFA Experience – The First Month

So I’ve just wrapped up my third week of classes here, and turned in my first story to be workshopped next week. By and large it’s been an incredibly motivating experience. My cohort is wonderful, full of people who encourage each other and have great ideas. The faculty are very dedicated to what they do, generous with their time and thoughts, and seem happy to push us to write what we want, how we want it.

My biggest struggle this far has been adjusting to the workload. I’m not talking about the class workload, either – that’s very manageable. I’m talking about the realization that my many undirected hours really should be directed. I only have four semesters here, and while everything still seems shiny and new, it’s going to go by very quickly. I came here with the goal of producing a great deal of work. More than the three stories I have to submit for workshop each semester.

My current dilemma is what to work on. At our orientation, Wilton Barnhardt warned us that if we would like to do a novel for our thesis, than we should really have a first draft of it, no matter how crappy, done by the end of the first year. His other piece of advice was that on the whole it might be better to do a collection of stories for one’s thesis.

I have never been particularly interested in writing short stories, but there’s one big advantage to them, and that’s getting published. I want (and almost need, given the realities of academic employment) to start submitting things to literary journals, and stories are the way to go.

On the other hand, I want to write novels. And I have 3 currently in various stages of progress, all of which I think I can do a lot of good work with this year. I’m not sure how my time should be best spent. At the moment, I think I will focus a longer project but still try to submit stories for the workshop, at least this semester. Then I’ll re-assess where I am at the beginning of the second semester. Whatever progress I make this semester may well determine whether I think I can finish a novel draft by the end of the year. I’m not sure who my faculty adviser is yet, but hopefully I can get some guidance from above, too.

But the bottom line is that I made the right decision in coming here. All summer I was worried that I wouldn’t be ready. The last three weeks have confirmed that I am.


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