Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mailbag 7 January 2008

New year, new issues.

Post all your questions, quandries, and inspirational quotations here.

For those of you who've just finished your first semester of the MFA, how about a recap to let us know how you've found the experience, your program, and most importantly, your writing? Any wisdom to share as you approach the next semester?


tuesday said...

"Everything will work out in the end; and if it hasn't worked out, then it's not the end."

Tine said...

I'm not sure that there is anyway to know this, but I was wondering if anyone knew whether or not there are certain genres that receive more applicants. Does fiction get more takers than poetry? Does poetry have more interested parties than nonfiction? I'm sure it's different school to school, but does anyone have any thoughts on this? Also, UNCW is my top pick and I was wondering if anyone had a personal experience to share about the program or the application process. Good luck, all!

Lizzy said...

Woo! Last semester was tough. A lot of adjusting to do, you know? The three-week winter break was well-earned, at least in this woman's case.

Today was our first day of spring 2008 semester at FSU. I couldn't be more pleased at how things went. Taught two classes; both are off to a good start. It's amazing how much you learn in one semester as a newbie teacher.

But best of all, tonight I had my first workshop meeting of the semester, and I am so excited about this one. I think I may have found an instructor who teaches exactly the methods I need to learn in order to take the next steps with my writing. I've been waiting a while, and I am still keeping my fingers crossed just in case, but this one feels good right off the bat.

Nisa Malli said...

I'm Canadian, and here we calculate gpa a bit differently. My university works on a 9.0 using only our 300 and 400 level classes.

Suddenly I'm panicking about equivalencies. Do American universities look at your cumulative gpa or your graduating gpa of senior level classes?

Heather said...


I wouldn't worry too much about anything having to do with GPA. All of the programs focus on the writing sample above all else. Furthermore, I'm sure you're not the only Canadian applicant (or applicant having attended school in Canada) that these schools have ever run across. More likely than not, they've seen the Canadian scale before. If you're still worried, google "GPA equivalency scale," translate to the American scale the best you can, and send the English Departments of your programs a little note. I'd only do that if you can't otherwise have peace of mind though...from everything I've read/heard, GPA is really not that big a deal.

elicitable kami said...

Anyone reading this applied for the Stegner 2008/2009 fellowship? I don't know anyone else in this boat with me, but I know there must be at least 1,500 of you folks out there. How many of those 1,500 read this blog?

Here's 1...

Lindsey said...

kami, i applied. not holding my breath! i'm trying not to think about it. i sent off my Stegner app before all the others and after further edits, i made more changes to my manuscript. so i'm pretty sure what i sent in wasn't polished enough for the elite stegner. sigh. what a dream that fellowship would be! maybe after grad school. i'll be happy to get into a couple of the 12 schools i applied to.

elicitable kami said...

I mailed it in the day before the deadline and STILL post-mailing, made substantial edits to the manuscripts, finding the most abhorrent kinds of errors. Plus, have you read the bios of the former Stegner fellows? Yeah, I'm SO out of my league. It's just one of those situations where the rational part of you knows it's beyond your reach and you should be more realistic while the irrational but louder voice in you keeps saying, "but MAYbe...."

Lindsey said...

Oh Kami, You're eating the same ambrosia and drinking the same elixir as me...I've done quite a bit of obsessing over Stegner- googling different combos of Stegner Fellowship Stanford Admittance Writers, etc. and have read quite a bit on these people. They're very qualified and genius. But like you, I still have that maybe lurching around my dome! Golly, it just affirms that even though "i'm not expecting anything" there's still going to be that little stab beneath the ribs when a rejection comes rolling in!

Nisa Malli said...

Heather, thanks for the comment.

I know that many mfa programs don't care about gpa (or gre score for that matter) but some of the ones I am interested in have a 3.0 minimum. I'm hoping one of the many american students on this blog will tell me how this is calculated. Is it a cumulative gpa or does it only count your sophmore and senior grades?

Lizzy said...

Some schools count your 4-year cumulative GPA. Others look at only your last two years. If you don't see anything that spells this out as such, I'd assume the program uses the 4-year GPA.

Hope that helps.

Jensen Beach said...

Regarding GPAs, I went to University out of the US, too, in a country which until this term didn't use GPAs at all. We had pass/fail (it's a little more nuanced than that, but not much). When I called schools to ask about this they all said, don't worry about it. It's not the number they worry about at the 3.0 min. schools, but rather that you have a certain level of academic achievement. They'll be able to tell from your transcript if you've done well. I'm sure these schools get lots of different grading scales sent to them and are experienced at interpreting the results. The only thing I've found that was a problem with equivalencies was if you went to school in a place that had (like I did) a three year undergrad degree. Some schools require that fourth year. Other than that, there didn't seem to be any concerns.

Also, like has already been mentioned, GPAs won't count for much in the end, I don't think. Schools aren't looking to diqualify you on a technicality. It's probably the opposite, if they like your work, they'll look for ways to get you in passed the graduate school overlords and their 3.0 requirements. All in all, I wouldn't worry about it at all.

Scarlett said...

Hi, I’m an American who has lived in Spain since graduating from college in 2000. Doing an MFA is almost impossible due to my location and work situation. (Low residency programs cost a fortune!) So, I’ve decided to apply to the Sewanee Writers Conference for 2008. I was wondering if anyone could offer any tips about the application process or suggest other summer programs…


Alex said...

another country --

I don't have much advice on the app process for conferences. I think they're more forgiving than an MFA review committee, but what do I know? I think the best tip is to apply early before all the spots fill up.

I'd recommend the Juniper Institute at UMass if you're looking for some other summer programs. I attended last year and it was a wonderful experience, far better than I imagined. I'm looking at Sewanee this year, too, but mainly because it's closer...flying up to Mass. made my Juniper trip costly.

Adorism said...

Here's a question for you:

Now that my applications are (almost) all out, and I've gotten everything squared away, what should we do about our recommenders? They pulled it off for me, even though I was fairly late in asking, and I'd like to give them something in return.

Any ideas on gifts for our recommenders, or anyone else who may have helped us along? Thanks!

Lindsey said...

I sent thank you cards and boxes of Godiva chocolates (but those little things are pricey!)

Babelle said...

Can anyone recommend a good, affordable online writing workshop? The Stanford ones look appealing, but out of my price range (I think the cost is upwards of $700). It's not for me, but my husband--he's not interested in MFA programs at this point but is looking for an affordable way to get good feedback on his work. Along those lines, if anyone knows of a good online critique group, I'd love to hear about it. General comments on sharing writing online?

elicitable kami said...

Is it true if you don't hear a response back from a literary journal about your submission within 1 month, then you're basically on the Rejected list and they're simply taking their time about getting back to all the rejections? I heard that they notify the accepted pieces within a few weeks and toss the rejected ones aside to get to later, which is why the "3 month" wait. Is that true?

elicitable kami said...

Lindsey - what's going on?! like we're psychically connected!

Adorism - yes, I send a small box of Godiva chocolates and a thank you card. Not a big box of Godiva chocolates, mind you, just those tiny boxes of 4 bon bons.

Bolivia Red said...

Not necessarily. Speaking for a student-run university journal, it takes at least a month for a story to go through the basic reading process. Yes, most stuff is rejected, and then it probably takes a few more weeks to months for those rejections to go out. But stuff that goes in the maybe pile then gets circulated around again. If we find something we totally love, we'll jump on it, but mostly it's still a high maybe and we'll hold onto it until we get closer to publishing to make a final decision. Sometimes the long delay in rejection is because your piece was in the running.

Jon Sealy, the fiction editor at Sycamore Review, writes about the process of reading and accepting on the website:

Click on his name under the fiction contest entry or "the business" and you'll get to the post.

Anne Haines said...

Another country --

I can't say enough good things about the Fine Arts Work Center summer program in Provincetown, Mass. ( I've taken workshops there for the past three summers. They have a fabulous faculty, and the students there are practically all very serious, strong writers. All of my workshops have included people with MFA's, people working on MFA's, and people who've been writing for years -- very, very few "weekend hobbyist" writers. My first year there, I was totally amazed at the high level of students there, all the more so because you don't have to apply and be accepted, you just register and send in your money.

(And speaking of money, it is a fairly pricey program -- unfortunately that's the nature of the beast in a resort town like Provincetown. It's well worth it if you can manage it, though.)

They'll be posting the schedule for this coming summer very soon.

Laura said...

Nisa --

I'm an American currently doing undergrad in Canada, so I'm well-acquainted with GPA transfer woes! Conveniently, though, the University of Toronto (and probably others, but that's where I am) operates on a 4.0 scale; if you have numeric grades out of one hundred, you can easily use this scale to calculate your GPA. I don't know how you'd do this officially, but for curiousity's sake, here's how it stacks up:

85-100 (A/A+): 4.0
80-84 (A-): 3.7
77-79 (B+): 3.3
73-76 (B): 3.0
70-72 (B-): 2.7
67-69 (C+): 2.3
And so on.

Again, this probably won't be officially helpful, but at least you'll be able to see approximately how you stack up.

R.T. said...

I sent two of my profs $25 gift cards to Barnes and Noble. The third was more personalized- two baby onesies for his twins he's expecting in a few. I think small, personalized gifts are good. Gift cards are a safe way to go, though. Otherwise, I'd think wine may be nice, too if they drink.

Lindsey- I was just about to mention you as a Stegner app! Yay we're looking at the MFA blog together.

R.T. said...

I'm wondering, is anyone else married, young, and going into the MFA or already in it? I'm really interested in hearing about that experience.

Danielle Wheeler said...

r.p.: I'm 23, married, and applying to four schools for MFA in Creative Nonfiction.

Nisa Malli said...

Does anyone know of MFA programs that offer editorialships at their literary journal?

Pensive495 said...

I would be careful with making sure the GPA transfer is right. For instance, at my undergrad in the united states, 90-100 is an A, 80-89 is a B.

MeganRoth said...

I'm an MFA hopeful wondering... how much time do you feel you actually spent writing this past semester? Anyone who began an MFA program last fall feel free to comment on this question. I'd just like to know if your expectations for writing time were met, if that was a major factor in deciding to get an MFA.

Thanks! This blog is really wonderful for those of us that still feel really in the dark about all-things-MFA.


Lincoln Michel said...

Blogger nisa malli said...

Does anyone know of MFA programs that offer editorialships at their literary journal?

2:52 PM

I think a good number of programs do.

Certainly my program, Columbia, gives all its editorial spots to current students.

Lizzy said...

Cornell's program gives spots on Epoch to its MFA students. At FSU, the Southeast Review is staffed by CW students, both MFA and PhD. Many other programs have similar arrangements, as Lincoln mentions.

Babelle said...

I'm married and 30 (next week) and just finished applying. Here's hoping I'll get in somewhere! I don't know if I want to be 31 and applying next year. The married thing is definitely tough, just in terms of financial and career considerations. I feel guilty asking my husband to pick up and move and possibly be underemployed while I'm in the program, but then again, I've moved for his jobs twice, so maybe it all works out. Anyone have thoughts on balancing the needs of a partner during the MFA process?

Mr. E said...

I'm 24, have applied to 12 MFAs, and this is my long-term lady friend's last semster of law school. Her issue with picking up and moving is that admission decisions are typically made between March and April, which is a bit late for applying to the bar in other states. She's also got job prospects in FL, where we are now. But I've applied all over the US. We've been 2 hours apart before, and it has been okay, but, to quote Wilco: "Distance has no way of making love understandable." I don't agree, but find it interesting other people are concerned about this and am also curious if anyone is dealing with this, how they dealt with it, etc.

Pensive495 said...

Mr. E:
I'm 23 and have also applied to 12 schools all over the place. I don't know how closely it compares, but my girlfriend and I have been together two years and she still has three years left in school. It makes sense for "us", if I do grad school now. That way, we'll be finished at around the same time and can go from there. When it came down to it, I have run into dozens of people who put off their careers for a relationship or a family, and never went back. We decided to make the distance work.
So...I don't know about Wilco, or how much my situation helps; but I wish you the best of luck.

R.T. said...

We got married when I was 20-- he is five years older than I am. We dated a year while I was finishing up my BA and he worked as a high school teacher.

Then after we got married we moved out to the Chicago area so he could get his MA while I worked for 2 years.

So now it's my turn for grad school. He'll work while I go to school doing whatever he can find. And when I'm done, he'll be on his way to his PhD, hopefully. So we're taking turns. We're putting babies off until we finish our schooling. I think being married and moving to do the MFA is probably different from moving with a gf or bf, though.

Meredith Ramirez said...

oi. i lost track of the questions... sewanee is great (was there in 2005), and i've also been to napa valley, which is awesome. in terms of journal cycles, it's actually much more common here at epoch for us to hold on to a piece if we like it but aren't sure if we can place it, so rejections usually come before acceptances. epoch offers assistant and associate editorships to students, but the editor-in-chief is a faculty member. what else? next semester is my last and i'm focusing on my thesis, which thankfully isn't due until the end of august...

me said...

Your situation is very similar to mine. My husband and I were 22 when we married--straight out of college. He did his masters while I worked teaching high school and got my masters through night school. I continued working while he finished up his P.h.D. classwork. Now, he is writing the dissertation, and it's my turn to do the M.F.A. No babies yet. Our twenties were devoted to schooling (we're both 28).

I really hope I get in.

That and I hope when we finally start a family (I also want to do a Ph.D.), we get lucky and have twins!

me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

HELP. Just sent off the Jan 15 deadline apps today (the 14th), yet a few minutes ago I was reading the UNH website over again and they need an expository prose essay for their teaching assistantship application! I've got the essay, and I typed up a letter with all my information at the top, apologizing for the error. Gonna mail it off tomorrow. Tell me this isn't a big deal, please, someone, and that they'll get the paper and match it up with the rest of my file and everyone will live happily ever after?

Ashley said...

Hello all. I have a really specific question, so bare with me. U of Massachusetts's teaching assistantship ap asks for "a short essay demonstrating your skills as a writer of expository prose" but here's my problem: my computer containing all my work from senior year crashed over the summer, and I don't have the paper copies of the last essays I wrote. The last short essay I can find is from my junior year, Spring Quarter 2006. Should I turn this one in? I have journal entries a Winter 2006 fiction workshop, which are basically one to two page close readings of a short story, but they are WAY better than the essay, both in their analysis and their writing. But they are in first person, and aren't structured like a traditional essay (thesis, body paragraphs, etc). Should I turn in the essay or maybe the journal entries? Any advice would be so appreciated!

And, please let me know if I'm misunderstanding what they are asking for when they say expository prose.

And, when I format the essay, do I need to include what class it was for, or the essay prompt? What kind of set-up do I give it?

Thanks thanks thanks!

Bolivia Red said...

You'll be fine. You're mailing it by the deadline, and you've put the note on there. They'll be able to match it up just fine. If you're still worried, you might shoot an email to either the admin-type in the creative writing program/English department who's in charge of apps, or to the grad office, if that's where you sent it (maybe don't bother the program director, though). Maybe follow up in a few days to be sure.

You want a third person essay. Just ask Wikipedia, that font of wisdom and truth.

Is there any way to rewrite the journal entry in third person and into essay form? For a close read of a work that shouldn't be too hard--in stead of "it seems to me" and "I think what Hemingway is doing here..." just write it as "Hemingway is blah blah blah." You may need to revisit the text to pull out some specific examples and page numbers to cite.

If that's too much, go with the other essay, and maybe rewrite/polish it or add to it.

As for indicating the prompt or explaining what class it was for, I put the following line, but no other explanation right under my personal info:

"Critical Sample: This piece was originally written for a graduate seminar on the Metaphysical Poets"

Good luck!

R.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.T. said...

Rambler, thank you for sharing that. I'd be where you are if we mixed our order of schooling a bit. Good luck on twins!

So your husband doesn't need to be at the university for his dissertation, right?

What kind of hardships did you endure during your first years of marriage and schooling? I hope I'm not prying. I just don't know of many people in my situation. And we don't have many role models either.

Andrew Marcus said...

Seems like there are actually quite a few of us in this boat. I've in my early 20's and have been married a little less than two years now. My wife is perfectly willing to move wherever I get accepted (IF, I should say), and fortunately the company she works for has offices in each of the cities where I've applied. Neither of us is really on a career track yet, though, so I suppose that makes it easier than if we were interrupting careers. Any of you other married folks thinking about having one stay-at-home parent once you decide to procreate?

Suzanne said...

I don't think I still qualify as young (just turned 32). I've been married since I was 24, and my husband has an awesome job that has a lot of potential, so moving for an MFA program that will lead me to no future income certainty is out of the question. My interest is in nonfiction, so that left me with a pretty short list of programs that interested me and were in my city. Such is life. Hopefully, one of them will accept me.

me said...

My husband can write his dissertation anywhere. So that's a relief.

As far as hardships, since we've always been in school our whole married history, I don't think we realized how hard it was. This was the first year neither of us were taking classes, and we were able to breathe for the first time. (And I was supposed to start my MFA last fall, but I ended up deferring.) It was good to have this parenthesis just to have a little break in the schooling.

Hardships: little to no money, lackluster jobs, less-than-fabulous vacations, feeling like we haven't started life, yet.

Bonuses: getting school out of the way, bonding through the hardships and sacrifices, personal satisfaction with our life choices.

I guess it just depends on the people and circumstances, right?

I'd rather do all of this married than alone.

And Andrew--
When I finish my MFA (fingers crossed) and have my twins (fingers crossed again), I'd love to stay home, change diapers and write novels.

R.T. said...

Rambler, I'm glad to have someone go through the MFA with me, too. We've been married for 2 years and have been in school the entire time as well- at least one of us.

I think we're lucky to have spouses who believe in our writing enough to move-- it helps, too that they're not settled in great careers yet.

Andrew, I think I will stay home at least part time once we have babies. It really depends on whether we live close to our families and also on who gets a more lucrative teaching position. But I think I would always like to work at least part-time.

Pfeiff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is regarding the MFA and marriage.

I live in the San Francisco Bay area. I finally met my most wonderful soul mate a month before receiving the acceptance call from NYU last March. I deferred admission to NYU for one year so that we could get married and figure out what in the heck we were going to do.

The fall semester begins in August, and we are making plans for me to live in New York (my husband’s job requires that he stay in San Francisco). I’m 37. We have no children, and time is running out.

Talk about stakes. The last two fertile years of life in exchange for an MFA? Well-timed, cross-country conjugal visits? My husband reassures me every day that he’s there for me no matter what I decide.

...I’m flummoxed.

Any thoughts would be welcome…