Friday, January 2, 2015

Recrudescence and Grievances

(i.e., "Welcome Back" and "Why MFA Apps Suck")

Dear Reader,

After all the December insanity that is applying for grad schools, a loved one enlisting in the Army, and a sister moving abroad (she's an artist, follow her here!), we are back up and running. Thank you for your patience, and I hope you'll stay and keep watch for future posts detailing my silly writerly reflections.

As noted above, last month the first round of MFA applications went out. If you want to know what total misery and the height of stress are, apply for an MFA program during your senior year of college. Nothing says "Judge my soul" more than submitting a personal statement, that hair-pulling puzzle that calls for the perfect balance between formality and conversational tone, intelligence and creativity, self-promotion and humility, and logistics and originality (and usually within a strict page limit, too). And if you thought submitting creative work for publication was nerve-racking, how about submitting to a highly competitive graduate program for writing, where your work has to stand out among the 600+ other applicants of all ages and experiences to be considered worthy of professional cultivation?

As you can imagine, sleep has been a rarity.

MFA applications pushed me to my limit -- academically, creatively, mentally, physically, and emotionally. The killer is that booming, haunting voice of reality in the back of my mind, reminding me that even with all my hard work and talent, my chances of getting accepted are about 1 in a million. As one fellow blogger put it, MFA acceptance rates are "the lowest of all graduate programs. You have a better chance of being accepted into Harvard law school" (literally, people). It sucks. The anticipated letters of rejection, I know, will feel like a slap to the face. But I can't let myself take it personally.

If nothing else, MFA apps have taught me the importance of having thick skin. In the writing field (at least for starters like me), one's worldly efforts are 99% failure and 1% success. For every publication, I've had dozens of rejections -- and those are only for venues that don't pay. As a naturally sensitive person, I've found it a hard reality to embrace: I've had to learn that it's not a reflection of my talent, that it's just the nature of such a competitive field. But all of that is only the public side of writing; there's also the private side. The hours spent in my room writing, reading, improving my craft on my own -- that's where real success comes in. If I'm constantly working on my writing, if a poem I write now is better than any I wrote last year, that's progress; that is my measure of real, personal success.

But MFA apps taught me something else, too: how important friendship is in the writing world. During the application process, I was absolutely humbled by all the support I received from professors, peers, and loved ones. I had professors working overtime on the weekends to help me edit my personal statement. My patient boyfriend spent his few hours off from work proofreading my sample. Many friends and family members kept busy making sure I remembered to eat and sleep. I couldn't believe how much people were willing to go above and beyond to assist me in this process. It reminded me that writing can never be entirely a solitary pursuit (and coming from an introvert, that's really saying something). One needs a support system to survive: fellow writers who know the strings and the struggles; an audience to provide feedback and reality; and loved ones to be inspired by, to maintain one's sanity, and to remind one what it's all about. What is writing, after all, if not a form of communication with other people?

I will keep you updated on the rest of the application process. In the meantime, wish me luck on upcoming apps.

Grace and peace to you.

P.S. Small victory, but I made a suggestion to a Mass Poetry series and it made it up on their Poems for Winter Nights page. Check it out!

1 comment:

  1. So happy you made it through the semester and learned from the experience! You WILL HAVE A WRITING CAREER! It WILL HAPPEN! Just work hard and be patient. Very patient.