Life after the MFA

It may only be the second week in November, but this semester is nearly over. The Spring 2012 issue of The Pinch is officially full and we send our files off to the printer a week from tomorrow. I’ve got a big chunk of my thesis together and more I know will be going into it soon. I’m also on the third round of edits for the cover letter and project proposal I’m writing for the fellowship I’m applying to.

Overall, things are falling together.

I’ve been hearing more and more about “life after the MFA.” As in, what the heck do you do? James Allen Hall, who I had the pleasure of having breakfast with when he was in Memphis for The Pinch’s Fall 2011 release party, told me it normally takes some people 10 years to publish a book after they graduate and it may or may not be anything close to what they wrote for their thesis. It took him 8 years and everything in his book (Now You’re the Enemy) was new (as in, new after his MFA thesis). Mary Molinary, a graduate from the University of Memphis MFA program, took 9 years. Her manuscript won the 2010 Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse award and is now forthcoming in Spring 2012.

Many recent graduates I know are teaching at the college level. Others are teaching at the K-12 level. Some are getting new degrees in new fields. One amazingly lucky person has already had her book accepted for publication.

Many people have told me that after they graduated, they just stopped writing for a year. All that productivity and trucking along for so long and then a dead stop once they graduated.

Right now, I’m applying for a writing/teaching/editing fellowship. These kinds of things are highly competitive, and I’ve already put a great deal of work into my application.

The thing I’m trying to keep in mind at the moment is that 10 years may seem like a long time, but it’s about dedication. This business is not easy. Publications, jobs, acceptances, etc. are not easy to come by. It’s all about the work, about the writing, about the editing, about the sending out, and you have to really love writing to put up with all that work.

Ten years, in a way, is pretty comforting. I don’t have to exit my MFA program and immediately get published and successful and be a star at AWP. I can get the chance to settle out, see what I really want to do, and just keep chipping away at what I really want.

Keep the love alive, folks.

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