3 Lessons I’ve Learned From My MFA Program

3 Lessons I’ve Learned From My MFA Program

Things haven’t quite gone according to plan lately. 

My MFA work came to a halt a couple weeks ago when my funding didn’t work out, so I’ve decided to take a little time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far. With my newfound free time, I’ve realized that there are a lot of things I wish I knew about MFAing (which I’ve decided is a word). Having been off for a couple weeks now, I figure here is as good a place as any to share them.

You might be thinking, “Whhhhhha? Adam, this isn’t about beer OR books,” and yeah, you’re technically right. But I’m currently reading an awesome book (this one), and I’m scoping out some new breweries this weekend (like this one), so stay tuned! 

Lesson 1: Getting an MFA is hard.

Okay, so this one’s probably obvious. And, for the record, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. The thing is, though, that for most of my life, I’ve been comfortable with my writing. Submitting to workshops full of talented writers completely changed this, though, and before I realized it, I was listening to my work get ripped apart and analyzed in ways I didn’t know it could. This wasn’t easy to swallow, and it’s still taking some getting used to, but I ultimately realized that this struggle is worth it (see Lesson 3 for the why). 

Lesson 2: Relations can make or break a writer.

This one’s two-fold. While my classmates obviously helped me during workshops, discussions, etc., I would have been S.O.L. if weren’t for my wife and best friend. Anytime I wrote something or made a revision to it, one of them would take a look and give me feedback, and their thoughts — even if they just put me at ease about some weird decision or another — helped improve my writing time and time again. As someone who admittedly doesn’t like to read things multiple times (a bad habit for this gig, right?) It blew my mind how willing they were to help out.

On the flip side, my professor and colleagues were helpful, too, particularly in regards to marketing my work. While I don’t have any publishing news to share (that’s hopefully going to change), they were able to point me in the direction of journals they’ve read that they thought were a good fit. Some I’d heard of, but others were brand new, giving me additional markets as well as new reading material.

(clapping emoji)

Lesson 3: It makes you better. 

I haven’t figured out what “it” is yet. I don’t want to say it’s the degree-earning process itself, because that’s not fair. Or correct. I suspect that it’s the writing process, the community, the intentionality of it all that improves your writing, and that can be found in lots of places. What I know, though, is that I’ve put more thought into my writing lately than I have in years of writing beforehand, and, comparing the first and the last stories I wrote, it’s obvious. The dialogue sounds more authentic, the prose is tighter, the jokes make sense — it just feels right. Hopefully, the results will start to pay off, too!

All of this being said, I’m still not 100% sure how I’m going to bounce back as far as the funding goes, which unfortunately has me at a bit of a crossroads. Whatever I do, though, I’m hoping to keep these lessons with me and be better off for it. That’s not a jab at the program or anything, and if you’re looking to get your MFA, the Bluegrass Writers Studio is AWESOME. Just not sure where to head given these recent bumps in the road! 

That’s all for now, friends. I’ll be back soon with some sweet books and beers for you to check out! 

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