The short version is I was accepted into George Mason University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I’ll be starting this fall with full funding, including tuition remission, a stipend, and a GTA position. For the next three years, I’ll be taking classes, writing, reading, and teaching full time.
So that’s pretty neat.
Mason is in Fairfax, VA, so my wife and I are on the move back across the Potomac to our home state. My wife has been incredible. Having an amazing, too-good-for-this-world spouse to lean on is what made this even thinkable. When I told her last fall I was considering applying to MFA programs, she immediately got more enthusiastic about the prospect than I was, and she led the charge into what ended up being months of research and preparation.
It’s kind of nuts how all of this came together, too. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since studying creative writing in undergrad. I applied to a dozen programs then, and all of them rejected me. After that, I fell into adult life and tried to do the writer thing on my own, maintaining a career in magazine publishing during the day and working on my fiction whenever I had the time and energy. The thing about careers, though, is as you sink further into them, they demand more of you.
Whenever I tell someone I write fiction and have two published novels, there’s this inference that I must do it full time. The reality is most fiction writers maintain day jobs because we make very little money off of our fiction. Therefore, most fiction writers have to learn to balance their day jobs with their writing. It’s not an easy way to live. Some writers succeed. Many of us fail.
Last fall, I realized the career that was paying the bills was dominating my mind during the times it used to be free to wander. It’s my nature to be my own worst critic, so I had to confront the fact that I wasn’t progressing or producing as I’d hoped. I wasn’t succeeding as so many other writers do by living in both the professional and creative worlds. I was failing at achieving my goals and meeting my own expectations.
So I decided, for the sake of my fiction writing, to try the MFA thing again. For me, it was a last hurrah of sorts. If I didn’t make the cut, I would figure something else out. I found some comfort and encouragement in recognizing my shortcomings, because it meant I could do something about them.
I applied to eleven programs around the country. My applications were local, regional, and even as far-reaching as the other coast.
Ten programs rejected me, and then the last one, Mason, accepted me.
So what does this mean? It means I won’t be publishing any more novels for the duration of the program. The MFA program culminates with a novel-length work, so I’ll be working on that with the help of a supportive writing community and some awesome teachers. I hope to have shorts going out in the meantime, of course, so look for those.
Of course, I doooooooo have two novels (here and here) you could check out, gift to a friend or family member, or pay Elon Musk to put in the glove compartment of the next car he launches into space. As a GTA, every little bit of support will help.
Anyway, what does one do with an MFA in creative writing? It’s not really about what you do with such a degree so much as what you do while pursuing it. This is about time and creative energy. For the next three years, I’m going to get to wake up every day and think about stories. I’m going to get to learn how to teach and gain some vital classroom teaching experience. And I hope to make some new friends and form some lasting relationships along the way.
For you writers out there who are wondering if I’m going to go full realist because of the stigma associated with MFA programs, one interesting facet of this is I made no attempt in my applications to hide my intention of continuing to write speculative fiction. The novel I plan to work on is very much a science-fiction story, and three stories with horror elements comprised my writing sample submissions. Mason accepted me knowing the kind of writer I am and the kind of writer I want to be, and in my experience so far, I’ve found the community to celebrate good writing as good writing no matter the aesthetic. I hope that trend continues. My impression is Mason hopes to attract writers with diverse voices and styles, and that’s exactly the kind of environment I was seeking. It appears more MFA programs are becoming more comfortable with fiction beyond literary realism, and there even are some devoted to genre and popular fiction.
That said, I do want to spend some time writing more personal stories and working on more character-level dynamics, so I plan to do some more literary work. With that in mind, this program will help me in another way. My goal has always been to be a writer that spans the literary and the speculative. I’ve always wanted to write stories that are meaningful and deep with complex characters who find themselves in relatable, powerful, and dramatic circumstances. I very much think of writing as art. But I’ve also always wanted my stories to be fun, entertaining, and moving, stories that hit you hard maybe without you even knowing why. I hope to zero in on that.
More than anything, I’m excited to be fortunate and privileged to have this time, time to try some new things with my writing and to get to that next level. For the next three years, I’m going to focus on my development as a writer, and I hope to have something exceptional to share with you when I’m finished.
If you’re a fiction writer considering an MFA and you have questions, feel free to ask below or reach out on Twitter. I’m thinking of doing an application guide of sorts here, too, so check back for that.