Lifelines for Post-MFA Despair

In an online craft essay for Brevity Magazine, Bryan Furuness (fiction, ’08) asks five writers, including Robin Black (fiction, ’05) and former faculty member Erin McGraw, for their advice to recent MFA graduates.

A weird thing happened the other day. A writer-friend contacted me to say that she felt lost and low and miserable about writing. What’s the point? she wrote. Why the hell am I doing this?

In and of itself, the note wasn’t so strange. But consider this: I’ve gotten two other notes like it in the last month, all from writers a couple of years removed from their MFA programs.

Most MFA grads know about the rough patch that often hits the first six months after the program. You feel burned-out and disconnected, and you have to adjust to life without deadlines and mentors and all that esprit de corps. My pastor-friend calls this a “coming down from the mountaintop” experience. For a lot of grads, this is the end: they never write again.

Many of the writers who slog on find themselves in another trough. Somewhere between two-to-four years out of your MFA program, you realize that no one is reading your work: it’s either not getting accepted for publication or it’s landing in obscure lit magazines that few people read. You get tired of answering your super-supportive Uncle Frank, who, every time he sees you, says, “How’s that novel coming along?” which is like every two weeks, and when you say, “Heh. It’s coming,” he offers up some bit of advice, most of which can be boiled down to Be more like Stephen King. …[Keep Reading]…


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