By Meg Boyles
MFA Program Assistant
A year ago, I started the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chapman University. I thought an MFA program would be like one really long, fantastic workshop. Summer workshops I had taken before showed me that the creative community, the diverse classes, and the serious assignments shaped me into a better and more motivated writer. Here in the MFA, I figured that I would take writing classes, spend the whole two years immersed in literature, and pop out with a bunch of publishable writing. While I am still in the midst of the program, I learned early on which ideas of mine were wrong—or not wrong exactly but too simplistic, unformed.
Lesson #1: I still had to make time to write.
At first, I thought that the two years of the MFA program would be totally dedicated to writing merely by virtue of me being in a creative writing program. Somehow, serendipitously, my past subpar writing routines and occasional procrastinating tendencies would disappear, and in their place, non-exhaustive creative management would materialize. I was now a graduate writing student, a role that seemed to say: I take my writing seriously, and I write serious things! But in fact, even though I am in school for writing, more responsibilities have filled other aspects of my life. I have to carve out time to write for class, for my thesis, and for myself. I have to make the conscious effort each time I write, just as before I got here and, I now realize, just as I will have to do after I graduate. I.
Lesson #2: I became interested in new genres and issues.
It’s not that I entered the program thinking my interests would never change, but the smart people I’ve met, books I’ve read, and classes I’ve taken have moved me in directions I was surprised I enjoyed. Other MFA students here at Chapman University have said the same thing. They never thought they’d be interested in ______ until they took _______ class, and now it’s completely changed their writing for the better. For myself, I never thought I’d be interested in writing about The South until I left it to come to California. This new direction has given me an energy and a purpose that excites me.
Lesson #3: I’m learning more than simply how to write.
I can’t speak to what it’s like to be an MFA student at other programs, but I’ve found that at Chapman University, I’m not only working on craft. The Aspects of a Writer class taught my fellow students and me how to write a cover letter when submitting to journals, how to pitch a story, how to create a writing schedule (a personally very helpful lesson), and ways to be a literary citizen, among other important pieces of information. It’s not just the Aspects class either. All of my professors have built into their classes little spaces for individualized advice, extra workshopping, and outside opportunities to grow. I had not thought to consider this before when I was looking at graduate schools, and I’m not even sure how I could investigate this part of a program without talking to real-time students. This unexpected, practical, individualized learning feels necessary to my growth as a writer. I feel lucky to have ended up in a place that supports that.
These are three main lessons I’ve learned during my first year at Chapman’s MFA program, and I have to say: I’m looking forward to what I learn in my second year because I realize there’s even more.