Monday, April 13, 2009

Hey You, Writer! (Michael Fauver Update)

Alumnus Michael Fauver writes:

Hey, You, Writer

I spent almost a year applying to MFA programs in fiction writing, and I learned some things that might help you. Like,

GW is awesome.

Take advantage of the amazing opportunities available here. You're lucky. Not many schools have undergraduate-only creative writing programs. Work hard. Develop relationships with writers. The people who helped me most when I applied for grad school were my GW mentors: Maxine Clair, Tayari Jones, Dan Gutstein, Faye Moskowitz, and Holly Dugan. (Thanks guys!)

Sadly, some professors will talk shit about workshops. Ignore them. You have no use for their closed-mindedness.

Break.

After graduation I went to the Yaddo artist colony to write. I'd just finished my CW thesis and still had leftover energy and enthusiasm. The work I produced was decent, but mostly I learned to write on my own. Then I took a break. I didn’t write for six months. I traveled, worked, and read.

Write.

When I started writing again, it felt like all my experience and education had finally settled inside me. I wrote and revised with a new sense of confidence and maturity.

Lots of people will tell you not to apply to MFA programs right after graduation. Listen to them.

Research.

Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students by Tom Kealey. Buy this book.

The Suburban Ecstasies, http://sethabramson.blogspot.com/. No one has more statistical and anecdotal knowledge of MFA programs than Seth Abramson. His blog is indispensable. He even maintains a database of notification dates that shows when a school has started accepting/rejecting its applicants. It's engrossing, it's masochistic, it's wonderful.

Request recommendation letters.

And do it early (like, September). Use online methods if available. For printed forms, fill out as much as you can before sending them to recommenders. Address and stamp the envelopes. These people are doing you (and a lot of others like you) a huge favor.

Polish, polish.

You'll need two finished stories (approximately 30 pages). Show your manuscripts to mentors and friends. Which ones grab them up front? Which ones keep their attention?

Get personal.

Write your personal statement. Don't say shit like "ever since I was a little boy." You're a writer. Write about writing. Do you have a project in mind? A novel or collection? Talk about that. Be formal and friendly. Set it aside for a week. Revise. Show it to the best editor friend you have.

Apply.

Go for 10(!). Pick schools that can fund you (and not just the top ones). Stay organized. Learn to love Excel. Read instructions carefully (some, like NYU and Columbia, aren't easy). Have a checklist. Submit materials early.

It’s a crapshoot

Not everyone will like your writing. That's life. It sucks.

Visit the schools.

Talk to current students. You might change your mind. In February I was leaning toward Michigan, but nothing could beat the feeling I had when I stepped into the Dey House in Iowa City. You know how sometimes you walk into a place and it feels like home? Yeah, it was like that. Listen to your gut. Take your time. You have until April 15.

You're not going to study with Bill.

Well, you might. But probably not. Your top-choice school might have William Shakespeare on its faculty, but odds are he'll be on sabbatical the semester you're writing your thesis.

Say “thank you.”

To everyone, especially your mentors.

Keep writing.

After you've chosen a school, thousands of things will demand your attention. Write anyway. You're getting an MFA, so hopefully you'll be doing it from here on out. Find a balance between what’s important in your life and what’s stupid.

Michael Fauver graduated from The George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing in 2007. He has been awarded residencies from Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony. In the fall he will attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he plans to finish his first novel, Why I Won’t Remember Who You Were.

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