Monday, October 02, 2006

Cutting Out the Noise

I've been thinking lately about all the questions and answers we have on the blog. What I like about this forum is that it gives people a chance to share their experiences and concerns, and that we all don't feel like we're out on a limb alone.

That said, David Roderick and I were talking on the phone last night, and we were sort of joking around about how a lot of my answers on the blog simply state the obvious. And that some of the questions are about such slight details that I fear that sometimes readers and visitors might be missing the larger points of the MFA application process. (Which I'll get to in a moment).

If you visit here often, you can probably think of some examples, but I'll skip on listing some of my own. The whole point of the blog and book is to take away anxiety, and I'm fearing that somehow I'm enabling people's worries by addressing all of these smaller points.

As an aside, I was driving in San Francisco this weekend with Stephen Elliott. We were listening to an NPR show where an author was offering advice about how to avoid lending money when you don't have any money. That seemed to be the point of the book: If you don't have money, then you shouldn't be lending it to your friends, especially the friends who are not going to pay you back.

Steve was like, "Why do you need a book to tell you that? How many pages could that possibly take up? It's like, if you don't have money, don't lend it out. If your friends don't pay you back, don't lend them anymore money. That's like a pamphlet."

It got me to wondering about the MFA Handbook, and maybe how that probably could've been a pamphlet too.

In any case, my main point: Don't get caught up in the MFA noise. I mean: the noise in your head, the noise on this blog, the noise from other people. Don't outsmart yourself through this process, and above all, don't spend time worrying over small things, or things that you have no control over.

Do check out our Tip Sheet. And if I were to write a pamphlet on the MFA process I'd simply say...

  • Send your best work.
  • There's no ifs, ands, or buts about that. Send your best work and quit worrying about it.
  • Apply to as many programs as you possibly can.
  • If funding is important to you, make that a priority in your program selections.
  • I said a priority, not the only priority.
  • Have someone read your work and personal statement before you send them.
  • In your personal statement, explain what you'll do with your time in the program. Come across as friendly and focused.
  • Choose recommenders that you can count on.
  • Take the GRE. It expands your program choices.
  • Read a lot. Write a lot. Get feedback on your writing. Repeat.

Cut out the rest of the noise if you can.

-- TK


Third Person Limited said...

Even as someone who has submitted such "noisy" questions, I have to agree with this. I think the problem is that some of us get a little greedy -- the instant one of these worrisome yet ultimately insignificant problems arises, we immediately think, "Hey, there's a blog to answer that question!" and write in.

I do hope people continue submitting questions, though. This blog rules.

Purpley79 said...

as someone who's guilty of this myself, i say, dear tom, you're thinking too much. A blog is something you write every day. How, then, could you possibly write about the same things over and over? We're writers, we're neurotic, I like that you've created this community where we realize we're not alone. Thank god for you and your book and your blog. I get the point about keeping it real, but as for all the other little details...the "noise"'s the only reason i look forward to coming to work on monday. I want to hear about all of it... how good the food is in the cafeteria, how to get that old professor who doesn't remember you to write you a rec letter, how to get through life until you can get into a program.

So crank it up, tom. crank it up. and thanks.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

The blog and the book are very helpful and meet a need, so good for you.

That said, I really did none of the recommended things when I applied to an MFA program. The school is well-regarded and the teachers, especially the new ones, are successful and good at teaching too. Best of all, my fellow students are kind yet very driven and smart -they push me along. I fell into this program - it's a mile from my house - but it's doing great things for me. Mills College BTW.