Congratulations! You just got your MFA. Now what are you going to do?

Posted by

Go to Disney World? Sounds expensive, LOL.

No, I won’t be going to Disney World. #1, it *is* expensive. #2, I’ve been at odds with that place for years. (Don’t ask: It involves locking myself in the hotel bathroom and sobbing.) Anyway! Here, instead, of my theme park itinerary, is my very practical list of what I *am* going to do now that I have my MFA:

  • Keep my day job.
  • Keep making new poems.
  • Revise the shit out of my manuscript and seek opportunities to publish it.
  • Return to writing book reviews.
  • Return to submitting individual poems/packets to journals.
  • Return to blogging here.
  • *Finally* get new prompt site (This is Not a Literary Journal) underway.
  • Launch new blog on a subject I’m super passionate about but cannot disclose yet.

You’ll notice, of course, that none of these tasks actually require an MFA or have anything to do with that achievement. And that’s exactly as I planned it. I didn’t pursue my MFA for any reason other than the opportunity to access yet another environment where I could explore my craft. I’ve always been well-informed about the pros and cons of the degree, and it was the right choice for me. It was a great experience, I worked my ass off and I have most definitely grown as a writer.

I read all the same articles everyone else reads. One of the more thorough and well-informed pieces can be found in the New York Times: Cecilia Capuzzi Simon’s “Why Writers Love to Hate the MFA.” Just like all the discussions of the MFA (in the larger venues, anyway), the comments section of this post is swamped with the debate. One of the main criticisms always seems to be that an MFA isn’t a guarantee that a writer is going to “make it.”

I’ve written about this here before, but I’ll say it again: Since when is the “promise” to make a living or become a celebrity the only good reason to do anything? We’re obsessed with too much bull shit like that.

In her new podcast (“Magic Lessons“), Elizabeth Gilbert talks to an aspiring writer about the preliminary work we do as creative people as being like building a runway and speeding down it. We do that so our writing can take flight… whatever that means for us: start a novel, send out a book of poems, etc.

And though the whole “take flight” metaphor is cliche, it resonated with me. Cliches do that. So! You build your runway with or without an MFA, and I’ll build mine. And we’ll celebrate *all* the ways these crazy contraptions otherwise known as poems* take to the sky.

*essays or stories, too


  1. You were a good poet before you got your MFA, and maybe you would’ve eventually gotten to where you are now without it, but at your reading in June I was astonished at just how good you’d gotten in such a relatively short period. To say nothing about whatever the MFA may have given you in self-confidence, a sense of solidarity with other writers, useful connections, and all that. And you’re far from the first writer I’ve seen benefit from the MFA system. I also like the fact that it employs many of my friends. 🙂 What I would say to my fellow academic-allergic outsider poets is: stop being such resentful little creeps and just write.

    Glad to hear you’ll blogging again!

    1. Thanks, Dave. It was so much fun reading for that great audience at State College & meeting you in person. It’s lots of fun staying in touch with our online poetry tribe!

Leave a Reply