By Matthew Goldman
Graduate Research Assistant
Before I began the time-consuming process of applying for MFA programs, I spent hours researching the value of an MFA in Creative Writing. While there were plenty of results that described the MFA as an essential part of an aspiring writer’s career, there were an equal number of dissenting opinions that paint a rather bleak outcome for those of us pursuing a master’s in creative writing. I decided to ignore the bad press associated with MFA programs, and after finishing my first year, I’m grateful that I didn’t let other people’s negativity influence my decision. That said, if you spend your time at Chapman University—or any other MFA program—doing the bare minimum to pass each class as you crank out your thesis, you will rob yourself of the true value of an MFA. To avoid falling into camp with the MFA naysayers, here are three tips to make the most of your MFA.
Tip #1: Develop a goal early on.
It’s great that you want to be the next Faulkner, but your MFA will not guarantee you a successful career as a novelist. In addition, life doesn’t stop happening at you as you pen your breakout novel, and that means you’ll need money. Tenured teaching positions are as limited as they are competitive. But there are plenty of other options, like editorial positions, copywriting, technical writing, marketing work, and essay writing, to name a few. The Aspects of a Writer course here at Chapman University introduces students to people who have found success as writers through all sorts of unconventional channels. Listen to their stories and be inspired by these other people who’ve found or made their own paths as writers, then figure out a goal for what you want to do post-MFA. Your goal may change along the way, but having the goal helps you prioritize and see the options. A goal will allow you to tailor your time in the program to give yourself a competitive edge in that field.
Tip #2: Say “yes” to as many new experiences as you can.
Say “yes” to intriguing classes and maybe a workshop in a genre with which you have less experience, but also remember that extracurricular activities are every bit as important as the work you put into completing the degree requirements. Take a position working for Anastamos. Volunteer with Dr. Jan Osborn to be part of the Orange High School literacies partnership. Talk to Prof. Morgan Read-Davidson about teaching a class at Recovery Education Institute. Go to AWP—that’s the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, and it’s in Portland this coming spring. Join Sigma Tau Delta, the English Department’s honor society. Sign up for as many General University Studies (GUS) workshops as you can fit into your schedule (but remember to show up so you get a P on your transcript in addition to the experience). There are countless opportunities for you at Chapman University. Talk to your professors and peers if you need help finding one that fits your interests, and don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone. You will leave the program with an impressive résumé and also strong references who will advocate for you as you seek out a job.
Tip #3: Attend university and local events.
Chapman University hosts a wide variety of world-renowned speakers and thought-provoking events. Even when you aren’t “forced” to attend through Aspects, make sure to catch Word Theater on November 5 with author Bobbie Ann Mason and Hollywood actors. Same goes for Tabula Poetica, which is hosting four visiting poets and an MFA reading this semester. Any time there is a guest speaker, be there to hear what that person has to say. Go to social events and meet your peers. Attend the Anastamos launch party. Listen to what the panelists have to say at the Pub(lishing) Crawl in the spring. Check out the Wednesday open mic at The Ugly Mug on Glassell Street. Keep your finger on the pulse of all the things happening at The 1888 Center, just a few blocks from campus. Networking is extremely important and enriching. By engaging with events during your MFA program, you will build stronger relationships with your faculty, cohorts, and community.
What these three tips really get at is that there’s an amazing Chapman Experience you can build for yourself through the MFA in Creative Writing program. Not only will you become a better writer here and have some good times. This experience will shape your future in ways you might not even be able to see yet.