MFA Rejection: A Real Kick in the Wiener

Learning new stuff rules. Honestly, it’s one of my fav things to do, which makes my gig at the reference desk at a library work out pretty well. When students come up with some totally obscure topic I get super stoked to start sifting through the databases because I know I’m going to find something interesting. Well, that’s not all the way true. Digging up case law for paralegal students is hell on Earth. No joke, man. That stuff makes me want to throw myself from the stacks.

When I started writing–and I mean started writing for realsies–I began researching how to become a better writer. Being the uber-nerd that I am, I figured I should look into some college classes on the subject. I found a couple workshop type classes at the junior college but didn’t get much out of them aside from a hatred people who write manuscripts in crazy fonts. After that bout of nonsense I decided to look into some graduate programs and found a little something called an MFA. Most of the schools had a serious case of we’re-artsier-than-you, but some of them seemed legit. So I picked a few schools that seemed to be the least douchey, stuffed my hopes of being a writer into manilla envelopes, and waited for the mailman to bring me a pile of acceptance letters.

Weeks later, the responses started rolling in and they were all the worst kind of bad. According to those hacks I didn’t have the chops to be a real writer. They wanted art, baby. And the only people who thought my writing was art were the same bumpkins who preferred their Elvis paintings done on velvet.

Getting rejected was a serious kick in the wiener, but now that I have some distance from those rejections I can pull a whole bunch of lessons out of the experience. Those letters were just like any other from an editor who says my story isn’t his or her kind of thing. Looking at it like that helps me get some perspective on the whole deal, which has motivated me to work harder than I did when I was applying.

Have you had experience with an MFA program? Are you a graduate, a dropout, or a reject like me? What–if anything–do you think about them?

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13 thoughts on “MFA Rejection: A Real Kick in the Wiener

  1. Yeah, I’m pretty iffy on MFA programs. I think they can be good, but then, self-study and critique groups is prolly just as valid.

    As far as your writing, you write just like me! So I love it. “For realsies”. Maybe you are me in a FIGHT CLUB sort of way. Uh oh.

  2. Oh honey, we should talk. I’m currently in a fabulous low-res program at Pacific Lutheran University and I love it.

    My question to you: did you talk to anyone IN the programs to which you were applying BEFORE applying? That’s huge. The program ratings out there are total shit, so it’s best to know what you’d like to get out of the program (like do you wanna teach? Just write? Work in publishing?) Your specific writing goals and your personality should also inform your choice.

    • So here’s how I went about choosing schools to apply to:

      I started at pw.org with the list of all the programs in the country. The low-res deal didn’t seem like my thing so I stuck with traditional programs. Next I spent time digging through programs, focusing more on the faculty and what they’ve written than reviews from students. I figured that looking into an instructor’s writing would be a pretty solid cue as to what I could expect out of the program.

      As to PLU, I actually looked into that program just because it’s maybe twenty miles from my house. But after a friend told me about her experience with the school being super religious, I decided it probably wouldn’t be a good fit.

      What is it that you like about the program at PLU?

      • First off, PLU as an institution may be religious. I don’t know. But the MFA program (called the Rainier Writer’s Workshop) is largely independent and doesn’t promote any particular affiliations.

        Like you, I researched instructors and their work (per the recommendations of MFA blogs and folks like Seth Abramson), but what I’ve observed while taking writing classes (within and outside of the program), is that the style of a person’s writing (or how extensively they’ve been published) has little in common with how well they can help ME as a writer. And that’s what I care about most.

        Again, it gets back to what you want. I wanted to improve my writing without losing my distinct voice. I didn’t want to go through the “modern literary fiction machine” and come out sounding like every other Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad. No offense intended to Iowa, which is obviously a stellar program. Just not for me. I also wanted flexibility. Like if I decide to write YA, I wanted people and a program that would support that. And I’m very independent. I wanted to have some control over what books I read and my own writing experience. I still wanted a well-respected, literary program, but didn’t want stuffy, snobby, snarky, uber-competitve writers as peers. I wanted supportive people who were on the same team, trying to help each other be the best writers they could be.

        I found all that and more at PLU. That’s why I love it. I’ve made tons of great connections and have learned as much from my fellow students as from the faculty. In the end, getting better at writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s about spending the time with your butt in the seat writing your ass off. I just find it helps to have someone waiting every month to read and comment on my work and to be able to lament with a community of people doing what I’m doing. Plus they’re a huge resource when you get ready to publish. Sorry this is so long. Maybe I should be writing a blog post of my own about this experience.

        Good luck!

  3. Rejections are tough. I still have a short story sitting in a drawer (metaphorically — it’s actually on the hard drive) that was rejected with the comment, “Your dialog sounds like something out of Scooby Doo.” Since the dialog in question was just one brief scene and the editor actually said he liked the strong ending of the story, I could have taken that as encouragement, fixed the dialog and submitted the story somewhere else. But I didn’t. I got all wounded and let the story languish for years. Which was dumb.

    • The first rejection I received with a note from an editor made me so fricken mad. I got all bent out of shape because I thought the guy was insulting me, telling me to change something. It wasn’t I met other writers that I learned this was actually a good thing–as opposed to the photocopied form letter–but by then I’d scrapped the thing and moved on.

      Since then I like to think I’ve gotten a little better at taking rejections. When they come I don’t get super worked up about it, whereas before I’d get all worked up and tell my wife, “If you think I should give up writing then I want you to say so. Don’t go easy on me!”

      I think she’s probably pretty happy about that.

  4. Pingback: Why I Decided to Get an MFA « Hot Pink Underwear

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