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 and those writers with similar interests. 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:
Before we get started, I would like to both give thanks to and share the words of former staff member Emily Myrick, who wrote these emails and curated the resources within. Here’s what she had to say:
- pursue an academic career path,
- secure an agent,
- publish your writing,
- market and promote your work,
- and cultivate a writing life.
"In the spring of last year, as I curated each email in the “Life After the MFA” series, I prepared to graduate from the MFA program at the University of Maryland. I approached each month’s topic as I considered my own job hunt, my own publication goals, and my own literary life. I thought, too, about the other students in my cohort—where they were headed and what they wanted to accomplish. Sitting at my desk in the AWP offices and hunting for the solutions in our archives and in literary-minded publications became a weekly ritual, which allowed my own anxiety for the future to recede. Certainly, one central theme emerged: the inevitability of feeling unmoored and the need to recalibrate after losing contact with a writing community, deadlines, and an immediate, dedicated readership. At the conclusion of my first post-MFA year, I can say with certainty that feeling unmoored is all but inevitable. Despite the research and writing I'd done on the subject, transitioning out of an MFA program and into the wider world again was still a major shift, and my lived experience taught me that it takes real work to sustain my writing, harder and deeper work than most of us encounter in MFA programs. The wisdom collected in these twelve emails is only a starting point. What comes after is taking that wisdom and doing the difficult work of applying it to life. I often think of the advice contained herein when I find myself struggling. It reminds me to carve out a little more time to write or to make plans to trade work with a writer friend. It reminds me how important it is to foster my creativity, and above all, it reminds me to find a way to stay motivated and engaged. I hope these emails also speak to some of you and that you find motivation and inspiration in the advice I’ve discovered and collected here."
—Emily Myrick, MFA ‘18
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 launchpad 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:
Finally, in her essay Seeking the Work-Life-Writing Balance Post-MFA (from the Career Advice section of AWP’s Writer’s Notebook), 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 member 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 November installment, where we review advice on Finding Your Own Literary Community after the workshops are over.
Before signing off on the first of many emails, I’ll take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Jennifer January. I’m the Communications Coordinator and Membership Assistant here at AWP, and I am delighted to be taking over this incredible project from our wonderful former Membership Associate, Ely Vance. I hope you find the information shared in these emails to be extremely valuable and influential in your writing journey.
Communications Coordinator & Membership Assistant