MFA Afterlife

Finding a job:

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I did find an adjunct position, and I’m very grateful for it considering how the job search tested my self-esteem. But seriously, I thought publishing rejections were bad. Letter after letter came in the mail from University X and Community College Y, all stating: “We regret to inform you that you did not make the next…” interview, the next wave of dissecting my CV until it shows what they want. Overall, I think of the blogs and the essays I’ve read about how MFA students are not guaranteed jobs. All we were ever guaranteed was a chance to write. I love writing and teaching, but a tough academic job market makes me wonder how far I have to go before earning a coveted faculty position. I’m an impatient person, but I don’t think anyone can blame me for saying I don’t want to adjunct forever. Sure, I’m all about earning it, but I’ve been a college student for ten years. I have a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and now an MFA. I’m grateful for the degrees I have, but how long do I wait before I say to myself: “Self, you have degrees, but you haven’t published enough books yet to be a viable candidate for a faculty position—at least to compete with candidates with PhD’s. It’s time to dust off that notebook and apply to PhD programs.” That would be 4 degrees. Between 13-15 years total of college life. Super super super super super super super super super (super super) senior. I don’t feel like becoming that super right now. Maybe I just need to adjunct a little, work on my writing, and then I’ll get the itch to be a PhD student. Ah but that blasted GRE. I never took it. That will be fun. Maybe I should come back to my original point: getting a faculty job at this moment seems damn near impossible; so, I’ll make due for a while, send my work out, try to get published, and maybe the rest will come. Either way, I’m looking forward to adjunct work, even though most English majors feel that it is the dredge work of the field. Maybe it is, but it won’t kill me, so theoretically it will make me stronger. But, benefits and a salary over 15K a year sound nice. One day.

Sending out the thesis:

It’s important to give book submissions a shot, even if you have to shell out reading fees that add up. 20 bucks here, 25 bucks there. Then there are those chapbook contests. 15 bucks here, the annoying 17 bucks there. I plan on dropping over 300 bucks on submissions over the next year and that’s fine, it’s like playing the lottery. I gamble expecting to lose, but I feel some satisfaction in knowing I played the literary lottery at all. Hell, one of these times I’ll get a book. I don’t know how or when, but it will eventually happen if—and only if—I constantly revise and share my work. Why do I think I actually have a chance? Why should I think I have a chance when I’m sending my manuscript into a contest where the odds are 1 in 500? 1 in 1,000? Because of the little signs. Getting individual poems accepted in journals that you respect is a sign that your poetry is doing something for the audience. And if a few poems can make it, why not a collection? I have a realistic optimism, as paradoxical as it sounds. I think looking at publication as a statistics game is somewhat helpful—if not for anything but peace of mind.

Writing new work:

As difficult as it is for me, I have to get away from playing Call of Duty and watching TV. I need to write. The great thing about the MFA was that I was forced to write. Now that the responsibility is on me, I’m getting lazy. My advice is force yourself to write. Once you begin, it starts to work out. It’s just like cleaning the house. Once you start vacuuming, you get into a state of mind where you wouldn’t think of quitting until it’s done. Why would you? So, next thing you know you’ve written a few poems, ready to send to some friend or colleagues. Oh yeah, I recommend having your graduating peers’ emails handy and starting an email workshop. You’d be surprised how fast your writing can become…interesting—let’s say interesting in the bad sense—when you don’t have another set of eyes checking some of your moves. It keeps you honest, keeps you from getting lazy.


Moving sucks, but you’ll likely have to do it. I don’t have many thoughts on this topic other than I’ve realized that the tough job markets force you to feel okay with moving to the most random locations. I applied to some faculty positions in towns I’ve never heard of. That’s not rational, but I guess it’s not rational to try to become an English professor. Let’s face it, the odds are against us. Those damn statistics again.


I have become a better spender. I mean that insofar that I don’t spend as freely as I used to. As much as I hate it, Wal-Mart usually is a cost-effective choice. I don’t know how Great Value makes so many products. How can a company make knock-off Oreo cookies, chicken soup, and dish detergent? The mysteries of the world…


Good luck to all you future MFA afterlifers. It would be naïve to say we all will have great jobs and a ton of books, but we all must try. We made it this far.

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