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A Long Semester Break

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.

I am about four weeks into our six-week semester break, and I have to admit that I wish I was going back sooner. Now granted, I will probably remind myself of this thought a month from now, on another bleak, gray, subzero day in a long line of previous gray subzero days, when I’m running late, tired from working all day, and I can’t find one of my gloves, my scarf, or my hat (which all seem to disappear one by one as the winter creeps along), and inside my apartment the radiators are sighing warmly and outside it’s starting to snow. Again. By the time February rolls around in Chicago, all the charm of a snowy day is lost entirely, because the new snow usually just accumulates on top of the scallops of dirty, muddy sludge that have been frozen to the ground since December. On my way out the door, I will most likely slip on a patch of black ice and fall on my butt.

But right now, I’m missing the discipline of the weekly check-ins, the camaraderie of my classmates, just, really, the active involvement in a writing community. I’ve been writing consistently over the break (though not as much as I had hoped—see my earlier post about The Tudors)—but this past month of break has been a fresh reminder to that, in the end, writing is a solitary pursuit. This is a reality that cannot—and should not—be changed when you join an MFA program. But what the MFA can do is make you forget it sometimes. We always write alone, but it doesn’t feel quite so lonely when you’ve got work to turn in to teachers, writing groups to plan with classmates, readings to attend, assignments to talk about, required readings to examine, etc. It’s easier to remember that you’re writing for an audience when you are actually going to hear your work read before an audience the next week in class. It’s a lot easier to gauge whether what you’re doing is any good when you get immediate feedback from people whose opinions you respect.

As I head into my final stretch of graduate school, I begin to wonder (okay, fear) what will happen when I graduate: When it’s up to me to keep up with happenings in the Chicago literary world, to form writer’s groups, to seek feedback and help from people I trust. To keep myself from floating away in the purposeful disconnect between writing and real life (and when you’re floating, that’s usually when you’re doing your best writing!) and remembering my audience.

I’d love to hear from those of you who either have already graduated from an MFA program or who never went through a program and are still able, somehow, to balance all of the above issues. How do you make it work once you’re out of the MFA cocoon?

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2 Responses to A Long Semester Break

  1. Jessie Morrion says:

    Hi Matt, thanks for reading! Glad to have you! Anyway, yeah, I think having a writer’s group–even when you’re in an MFA program–is a great idea. The good thing is that, as a result of being in the graduate program, I’m already hooked into a network of people to form a group with…I wish I could give you some advice about how to find one on your own. Maybe I can write a post about that sometime in the future!

  2. Matt Stevens says:

    I’m not in a MFA program, nor will I likely ever be, but I am recently attempting to do what you are hoping to do after you finish your MFA. I am trying to find literary writing/reading groups, seeking feedback on my current writing projects, and basically trying to exist in the writing/literary world as well as the "real world" where I work.

    If I come across anything that seems to be helpful in maintaining that balance instead of disappearing into the cocoon of a writer I will surely pass it on. :)

    P.S. I have just started checking out blogs of writers/authors and already based on just your last two posts I will continue to check back and read yours regularly.

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