Thursday, August 16, 2007

Deciding Where to Go

Watch out for the big decisions that limit your options. Some of mine:

- I was working 80 hours a week in my job and thought Low-residency was my only option -- I ended up quitting my job a month before starting the first semester and didn't work again until after getting my MFA.

- I selected the Low-res program I did partly because of two faculty members I wanted to work with -- I never worked with either of them; one took a leave of absence and never came back and the other was fired for being a lousy teacher.

- I turned down an offer to a PhD in CW program because my wife couldn't pursue her career in that city -- she now works from home and consults for clients all over the world via the internet.

Simple point. It's natural to let the "big" decisions such as program type, faculty, and location shape where you go. But changes inside and outside of your control have a way of rendering those factors obsolete. You can end up somewhere for a reason that no longer applies.

If I had it to do over again I would base my decision on only one thing: Finding a place that the writer in me could call home. All the other stuff is ultimately noise. No matter what, you have to write. Go where you think you can do that best. The rest will take care of itself.


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice.

dll said...

"Finding a place that the writer in me could call home."
Yeah. Nice advice. And brave too. Most people only want to give the advice that seems the most reliable (especially the "look at and read the faculty" advice) because they know that most people want advice that seems like a sure thing.
What you're saying is that what seems like the best advice is usually the most UNreliable.
Brave also because most people will counter your statement with, "well how am I supposed to know 'where I can call home'?"
It puts the decision making process in the hands of your gut - that "I just have a feeling" area that most poeple don't trust. Cause when it fails, if it fails, that gut feeling, then when you're asked, "well, why'd you pick those schools?" and you answer with "I listened to my gut" people laugh and call you a fool and feel justified in doing so.
Everybody wants answers, everybody wants a sure bet. There is no such thing. Nothing so clearly proves that as the MFA application or publishing process. The craziest things are likely to happen.
So. Yeah. I think your advice is the best I've seen yet, Steve. Thanks.

Lizzy said...

Brilliant observations. The best-laid plans of mice and men, eh?

I agree with dll, too, that instinct has so much to do with making the right choice. When I was researching programs, I kept discounting the school where I am enrolled now. I kept thinking "Nah, too hot, too humid, too big, too small, too far away, too Po-Dunk, etc." Yet I kept coming back to it, over and over. I almost did not apply, but at the last minute, after sending out seven applications to other schools, I decided to give it a shot anyway. Well, the way things worked out, I'm here now and absolutely feel like I made the best decision possible. It *is* hot and humid and all those things, but I feel right at home in the program and cannot wait to start classes in less than two weeks. So glad I followed my instincts on this one!

Jessie Carty said...

I totally agree with you. When I was picking my program I said I had to go low-res because there was no way I could move and needed to keep working in my job.

7 months later? I'm not working and my husband would probably consider moving now. **sigh**

I am still happy with my program but it would have been fun to apply for places like Iowa :)


L. K. McNeilly said...

I'm in the process of applying to a bunch of low-res MFAs. Am finding that some have really good program descriptions on the web, some are vague. Any ideas on how to get more info so as to get the one that feels right? I see some faculty are "shared" between programs, so that's not the best bet. I am new to this discussion--has there been a thread that compares any of the low res programs? I can't find one that helps.

Sonia Quinones said...

Ms. McNeilly,

If you haven't already checked it out I would suggest you sign up for the Speakeasy forum on the Poets & Writers site ( It's free and the blog has a search feature. Many of the threads started years ago and are still active so there's alot of information.

Lizzy said...

Yes, McNeilly. What sonia said. There's a very active thread devoted to low-res programs over at PW. The people who post in the low-res all seem super-great, very eager to help and answer questions. Head there, but quick.

L. K. McNeilly said...

Thanks to Sonia and Lizzy. I will get myself to the P & W link.

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