Apr 13, 2008, 11:17 PM
Post #173 of 213
Years ago, the Speakeasy had a forum on the post-MFA life. I know that, as someone entering an MFA program, I found the discussion there both illuminating and seriously daunting. I think a thread like that one has serious value in understanding the life most of you are currently seeking.
Re: [ejdifili] Need to be published to get an MFA?
[In reply to]
Writers are pursuing multiple MFAs (thus the highly published competition) because they have few alternatives. A TA generally pays more than adjuncting (teaching on a per course basis), so post-grads are often teaching 4-7 courses at a time to get by, usually at 3-4 universities. Full time jobs, particularly in CW, are hard to come by. I have a friend with two books who just completed her second unsuccessful job search. I am fortunate to teach only creative writing, and I teach at both the extension and the graduate level, but I am still paid per course with no benefits. I spend a lot of time hustling for new and better work opportunities.
Publishing is the answer? Well, my short story collection, where four of the stories published were nominated and/or special mentioned for awards, has been on the market for two years. It's been close to a sale twice, each time the book was orphaned when the interested editor left the company (once to take a more lucrative job in magazine publishing, once by death). Every writer I know has a similar story to share, so it's not even unusual (okay, the death part was). Remember those short story collections with partial novel deals agents used to pull off? Well, writers like Eugenides, Packer, Diaz either took years completing novels or haven't finished yet. Now your agent expects you to finish the novel before she tries for that two-book deal. If you spend every free non teaching or editing moment working on the novel that will thrill your agent, your current or future employers will ask questions like, "Why haven't you won any more of those nifty awards that make us look so good?" or "Why haven't you published outside your genre this year--we hired you for your versatility?"
Now, I think my writing life is a modest one that is on the right track. I write. I teach. I edit. I worry about time and money and what my obsession is doing to the rest of my life. But, it's the life I wanted, just at a much slower speed than I ever expected. The truth is that many writers are using the MFA to be a cushion-period in the early stages of a difficult and demanding career. For those of you who just want a chance to learn and improve, that seems cruel and unfair. Which seems to be a good dose of what the writing life is like. Competition is fierce, and good fortune can be as much about luck and timing than talent and preparation. Luck can also come and go. I know we all dream of that Pulitzer or sitting on the couch across from Oprah, but if you want to write, persistence under daunting circumstances is a good skill to develop.