I hold an MFA in creative writing and an MA in publishing. I have a somewhat interesting and atypical start when it comes to writing but a never-ending determination, ambition, and tenacity to always better myself, my skills, and my craft.
Writing tips, advice, and stories from an MFA graduate, author, and sunshiney personality ☀️
I’m not going to lie. Every writer I’ve ever come across has started the story of their careers out the same way. They’ve had a passion, a zeal, a determination to write stories since they were children. They filled notebooks with short stories, wrote playful novels or picture books during class time, or at least kept a pretty detailed Dear Diary. That is not my story.
My writing spunk, hell, I’ll admit it, my reading engagement didn’t start until my sophomore year of high school when I was 15-years-old. This was the year I read…Twilight 🥺
I don’t want to be one of those writer’s who is ashamed of what initially inspired them, and I’m not as far as being inspired by a fun fantasy concept. But I think we can all agree that Twilight portrayed and normalized traits like obsessiveness, possessiveness, and overall toxic behavior that isn’t okay in any relationship. Plus, rereading the first book as an MFA student, the main character is whiny, holds little agency, and isn’t someone I connect with. As far as the prose goes… I’ll say that her later works are much more readable. I’m pretty sure if you count how many times the words “grimace” and “incredulous” are used just in Twilight, you’ll forever be scarred. I literally learned those two words from that book because they appeared on what felt like was every page.
So while it wouldn’t be anything I’d read or recommend today, I’m okay with the fact that my 15-year-old self found something that made her want. I wanted to write. I wanted to publish. I wanted to people to read my novels and buy the first edition hardback, paperback, and eBook. Growing up as a Military Brat, I moved every 2-3 years. This isn’t relevant to my writing history, but it gives background to my personality–restless, easily bored, and relentless. So to find something that I’ve stuck wanting for over a decade is a big deal for me because I still get the itch to move after 2 years of being sedentary somewhere. I’ve moved a total of 13 times–lived in 10 different states and 2 different countries and visited countless others.
I won’t go much into my background in my BA in Anthropology (Bachelors of Arts) before my MFA and MA (Masters of Fine Arts and Masters of Arts) because this page is about my writing journey, and that really became the focus of my life starting in Fall of 2016. If anyone has questions though, feel free to DM me on the Tweeter (Twitter) and I’d be happy to talk about my undergraduate experience, archaeological dig in Central America, and valuable skills I learned as a very…liberal major in anthropology/archeology.
Starting Grad school, 2016 edition
Looking back at my writing from 2016… Yeah, I think while I still would have had my cute little ‘tude, I wouldn’t be fighting the remarks. My MFA strengthened my writing to such a degree I honestly can’t even put into words how much more experienced, skilled, and accomplished I am as a writer now. For anyone even starting to consider pursing an MFA, DO IT! Do your research (always research!) on which school caters most to yours needs. Do you need a completely online program? A low-residency program? An in-person program? Similarly, do you want a program that focuses on mostly or only literary fiction–be aware this is MANY programs, so don’t be shy about emailing program directors to ask these kinds of questions! It was the best thing I’ve ever spent my money on (and by that I, of course, mean that I took out loans I’ll be paying off for years, but–totally worth it).
I won’t lie. I didn’t follow my advice at this point in my life. I hardly researched grad schools. I wanted to go to the East Coast, so I narrowed the search there, and when I found Rosemont College’s Double Degree program where I could achieved 2 masters’ degrees in 3 years instead of 4, I jumped and applied, got accepted, and moved all within the span of a summer.
At this point in my life, since I was 15, I’d taken school classes year round, including summer school and zero hours in high school, and summer classes and study abroad in my undergrad years, so I went into grad school taking the maximum amount of classes allowed without Dean and Director approval, 3. Unlike undergrad, graduate classes are full time at 3 classes (or 9 hours), some schools will even recognize 2 classes (or 6 hours) as full time. We had to jump through hoops to take more.
I went in strong in 2016, taking 3 classes in the Fall and 3 in the Spring semesters, and then taking summer classes and writing retreats (for which I had to complete writing assignments, words counts, and reflection papers to get credit). Fall 2017 I did the same. 3 classes, I did a winter study abroad to Italy, and then did 1 winter class (a study abroad in Italy) and 3 classes in Spring. At this point, my MFA director and MA director knew me well. I not only was constantly in my MFA director’s classes, office, and life (grad school is amazing because your teachers are your friends, and your friends like to go out and get drunk), but I also met with my MA director at least once a semester to go over my “Plan of Study” or “Degree Plan” or whatever the schools want to call it. The one thing I want to stress about school in general, is stay on top of your degree plan. It’s as much your job to know what classes you’ve taken, will be taking, and still need as it is whomever is in charge of your plan, and in grad school (particularly at smaller schools like I went to where there are no advisors for the students to see to it they’re on track like at my undergrad) it’s important that you–the student–the one paying for the degree, are on top of your shit.
Anyway, I say this, because in 2018 I took 1 winter class and 4 classes Spring semester. One being my thesis, after I received permission from my Directors and the Dean of the graduate college once they’d gotten to know me and my work ethic. I took another summer class that year as well as the yearly workshop my school holds for students, alumni, and the public. Summer session 2 of that year (2018) I also started on my thesis for my MA. The following Fall, because I’d gone to school full time year round, I only had one class in which I had to attend as I worked on my 2 theses. This semester was also the semester I audited the most intensive editing class my school provided (which I honestly think all creative writing should have to take).
Summer of 2018 (August) I also started working as an intern at an independent publishing house where I was moved up to an official social media and digital marketer after 3 months. The end of Fall 2018, I’d worked with a published writer and freelance editor and had gone through 3 rounds of edits for my MFA (a space opera novel complete at approximately 95,000 words) in which the process readies you for working with publishing professionals and editors. Spring of 2018, all i had to focus on was my job and my final MA thesis in publishing where I took a very hard look at NA (new adult), why it failed, if it was still as publishers put it, “dead,” and if it was possibly coming back anytime soon. While the findings weren’t to my liking (I’m an NA fanatic and think it deserves and is as credible as YA and MG, which at one point publishers also didn’t want to ‘make room for’ in their lists and on bookshelves), even a year after graduating, new houses are popping up, gaining momentum, and openly calling themselves NA inclusive houses.
Over the last what will be 4 years starting in September of 2020, I’ve gone practically every season with either writing a new book (or books), editing a novel, trying something new, or at least keeping myself immersed in the creativity part of writing, even when I’m feeling at my lowest. I used to be a big advocator for “write every day. Even if it’s just one sentence.” I’d never gone a day from basically 2016-August 2019 of not wanting to write. But life gets in the way, emotions and situations change, and sometimes, writers don’t feel like writing. It should sound obviously, right? I was honestly shocked the first time I went a week without writing even a little nothing poem or funny piece of flash. It reminded me that I am but a mere mortal, and that it’s okay to not write even one word every day much less a sentence.
Instead, I took to making Pinterest boards for my ideas that were brewing but not being able to translate onto the page. I made aesthetics, collages, edited photos. Found ways to still feel connected to my writing while not actually doing any writing. It still helped me with the creative process, which made me feel useful. Which kept me from falling into too much negativity about feeling guilty about being a writer who doesn’t write.
And then just the simple task of talking about my writing with people I met online–you know who you are my Twitter BA(b)ES–made me fall in love with the story I’m currently querying all over again. The simple task of talking about my character, her flaws, her strengths, how she changes, overcomes, and persists made me remember why I spent four, 12 hours days writing her story until the first draft of book 1 was done.
While I could talk about my writing journey, classes I took, genres I tried, risks I took, hours of writing, my process, and just an endless amount of other related topics for an endless amount of time, I’ll end this section talking a bit about the types of things I’ve written, how many finished novels I’ve, almost finished, halfway finished, and which are just baby ideas that are still brewing in the back of my mind. Because I have books in all of these categories.
I want to start with the fact that in my innocuously named folder on my laptop, I have…oh I think 64 documents of different stories in there if I counted right (totally could be off by a few). Out of those, about 11 are completed, 15 are between 50-80% done, and the rest are either just a few chapters in or brewing ideas that I’ve written maybe the first chapter for. This isn’t even counting some of the books that aren’t near being done or less than halfway done that I’ve just stuck under my “baby books” category that have sequels planned. And I’m a pantser, so by planned, I mean I just intend to keep writing the story without knowing what exactly happens because I just know it’s not over.
There’s really not a (good) reason why I haven’t queried or tried to get my books published before quarantine started, except for the fact that I wanted to wait until I was finished school (when I’m in school I like just focusing on that), and then I just got busy and didn’t take the time to look up agents over a cursed weekend, and instead spread it out over the entire autumn of 2019 and winter of 2020. Quarantine, while driving everyone crazy, did have some perks (at least for me).
So, basically, this page is a summary that sings the praises of how my MFA took my writing and gave me the tools to enhance my talent and with hard work and determination allow me to write stories that have strong voices, intricate and powerful plots, witty and believable dialogue, and taught me to be aware of my sentence structure and flow as I was writing.
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it the rest of my life. If you’re considering an MFA in creative writing–yes. Just yes. Do it.