After the MFA: Now what?

As I mentioned in the relaunch post, this year I finished my MFA.

Three months after graduating, I’ve only just begun to sort out how I feel about the experience.  The short version is: I’m glad. I’m glad I picked the program I did, when I did. My cohort, in a word, rocked. And we were very lucky–I think–to have the mentors we did. If you hear stories about MFA professors who won’t give you the time of day, that wasn’t our program.

But the big question after it’s all said and done is: now what?

You go away for 2-3 years. You write some stories or part of a novel or, if you’re really crazy, all of a novel. You go to workshop, where someone might make you cry. You write and revise until you can’t see straight and when you’re done, you convert it into a .pdf and submit it as your graduate thesis. Hopefully you make some good friends. Hopefully the whole process doesn’t turn you off to writing and send you screaming for a cushy desk job at some soul-killing corporation. Even so, what do you do after an MFA?

Some people go the whole year after their MFA without writing. Others jump right back on the horse and start a new project or do another revision of their thesis. Me, I knew I needed a break. A chance for my brain to recharge. But I’ve had my vacation and now it’s time to get back to work. Which is easier said than done, you might say. Some ideas:

1) Create your own writers’ group. You remember those awesome people you went to school with? They didn’t evaporate when your program ended. In fact, they’re out there with the exact same problem you have and they could probably use your support as much as you could use theirs. I’m not saying you need to set up a weekly workshop on Skype or Google Hangouts (though they do work). Track your hours. Check in with each other. Create accountability. After all, nothing like peer pressure to get you working, right?

2) Pick a project. Maybe, like me, you decided not to pursue the novel track in your MFA program, but you’ve always had one sitting on the backburner. Or there’s some other postponed work simmering away back there. Now is the perfect time to give that project a shot. Set a reasonable goal (first draft by this time next year?) and get to work. And remember, pick project. Not sixteen.

3) Read. Probably you didn’t get a chance to read very much in that last semester of thesis-ing, did you? Time to head to your local library or used bookstore. I think it’s beneficial to give yourself permission to live a little here. Yes, read Dostoevsky if you want to read Dostoevsky. But read Agatha Cristie and Douglas Adams, too. Bonus points if you check out some nonfiction–you never know where your next weird idea is going to come from.

4) Submit your work. You might protest here. But it’s not ready, you might say. Chances are, if you put the time in, you have something that’s ready to do the rounds. Do it for no other reason than you need the experience. You’ll get better at submissions the more you do them. And, as a friend pointed out to me, it’s writerly work you’re doing without really doing anything at all. (By the way, Duotrope is a great resource for market research.)

5) Get out of the house. Sitting and moping isn’t doing you any favors here. Take a walk. See a movie. Eat alone at a restaurant. Go on a road trip. Have an adventure. Don’t think about writing.

And on that note, I’ll catch you guys later.

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