So you’re in an MFA program–now what? A guest post by MFA Candidate Danielle Shorr
October 1, 2019
Balance for self-preservation
Life can sometimes feel like a series of adverse events occurring in rapid succession. The MFA in Creative Writing itself is not the hard part. After all, I am at Chapman University because I want to be here and because I am capable of doing the work and want to do it well. The hard part is the balancing act that comes with taking on this endeavor. Finding the time to manage work, assignments, and mental and physical health can feel impossible some days.
Life is going to undoubtedly throw me things that I have no control over. So, I’m figuring out how to take care of myself as a graduate student. Each graduate student has to figure out what matters day to day. This year has been hard for me because I have dealt with many things unrelated to the program that I never thought would happen. But I know that there are people here for me, to support me, to help every graduate student succeed. My advice to my peers: you are going to make it work, even when it feels like you can’t.
Balance, of course, is subjective. Your balance may not look like your peers’ balance. Focus on finding your own version of balance, knowing that your best work will come when you’re at your best. Even when last fall’s semester was difficult for me in ways unrelated to class work, I managed to produce work that I am proud of. In the most challenging life experiences, the adage “write what you know” can become essential. Write. Write what you know. Get the words down, take the necessary notes. Write even when it doesn’t feel like the work is good enough. Write because even though you may not feel ready to write about it fully, you can return to it later. Having written something is better than nothing.
On the other hand, when times are toughest, don’t push yourself too hard. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Although saying yes to every opportunity seems ideal, give yourself permission to say no if it compromises your well-being. Be choosey. Pick the opportunities that will benefit you the most and connect you with the people who will help you get where you want to go. Your writing can’t thrive if you’re struggling, and opportunities you can’t yet see will emerge in the future.
The hardest parts about finding my individual balance as a writer over this past year were unpredictable things interfering with my routine. Even when life is going as planned, there will always exist inevitable distraction in your day. I’ve tried to take a wider view of my schedule. I commit to sticking to my schedule as best I can, but if it gets interrupted, I’m not to hard on myself because that’s really just another level of interruption.
MFA students are challenged here, but challenge is good for us. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, and getting out of our comfort zones is necessary if we are going to stick with this writing life. You are here because you are supposed to be here. Take some time to reflect on that, to realign the way you spend your time to reflect that, to relax into being here. And then get to the writing that’s part of being an MFA student.