writing

Looking Back: What I’ve Learned in Grad School

Today marks two years since I’ve started the MFA program, and I’m a little sentimental moving forward with my last fall semester (and last non-thesis class!) in just a few weeks. I’m still excited to pick up my books, work on assignments, and enjoy the workshop process one final time. All this is to say, I’ve learned a lot, and it’s not all related to short story, poetry, and living the life of a writer. Here are some things I’ve discovered since I’ve been in grad school:

 

You’re not the best…

And that’s the way it should be. I think many people have the preconceived notion that when they make it to grad school, they’re the best and can only share their talents with the world. While some of this is true, humility is a great part of grad school and understanding that there will always be Joyce Carol Oates out there keeps you spending the necessary time writing, reading, and consistently learning. I’ve been in workshops in which we tear up someone’s work to be rebuilt in a better way, and he or she is clearly resistant to any improvement upon his or her masterpiece. Over the course of my workshopping, which began for me in my freshman year of high school, I’ve learned that it’s a wonderful opportunity to have someone who isn’t your mom, husband, or best friend weigh in on your work, because it will make your writing much stronger and it will help you develop the thick skin you need each time you submit your work to be published. Speaking of publishing your work…

 

You’re going to get rejected…

But sometimes, you’ll get your dream publication, too. When I started grad school, I thought it would take me decades to get my work published, and that was just the nature of being a writer amongst millions of other writers in the world. Having that mentality kept me aspiring to do more, revise more, and write more, but it didn’t encourage me to submit my work often to magazines and publishing houses I respected. One class I took my first semester of grad school was all about how to submit your work to be published and what to expect within that process, and after being encouraged by a powerhouse of a professor whom I admired and was inspired by, I submitted some of my work and actually got published. Don’t be cocky about your work (see first point), but don’t downplay it, either. And submit it! You just might get that short story published in Glimmer Train or that chapbook might just win a first book award.

 

You’re going to fail…

But that’s expected. It may not be an F on a project, but there will be times when your workshop piece isn’t up to snuff and you’re called out, or you miss a deadline, or you don’t give 150% on a piece and it shows. That’s okay because you have to mess up to learn from your mistakes, but that brings me to the other side of that point: you have to learn from your mistakes. You can’t make the same mistake more than once in grad school, because it’s unfair to your classmates and it’s unfair to your personal progress. You’ll be surprised to know that working hard and giving your work all you have will always yield a better result than slopping something together at the last minute and hoping to scrape by.

 

You’re in control of your own path…

And it’s liberating and terrifying at the same time. You can blast through the program you’re in and get out into the workforce quickly, or you can meander through the program and enjoy each and every class, or you can do any combination of those that best suits you. I had originally planned to be full-time for two years and graduate and then start working full-time, but I switched a few things around when I landed my dream job and found the love of my life while I was still in school. Funny how those things will direct your path and cause you to deviate from your original plan – and that’s more than okay, because you have to do whatever will allow you to create work you’re proud of. That’s a different path for everyone, and I can safely say the work I create now compared to the work I was creating while I was in my first year of grad school is vastly different (and, dare I say, better) because of my life experiences.

 

“Be courageous and write in a way that scares you a little.” – Holley Gerth

xxoo
-KSL

One thought on “Looking Back: What I’ve Learned in Grad School

  1. Today is your best blog to date! We all “Aspire to Inspire before we Espire” and that is what you always do, especially today! It’s personal, but good advice for all! You are such an exceptional human being…to say I’m proud is hardly a worthy statement. xoxo LSW (Grammy Diva) πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

    Liked by 1 person

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