My Experience with Graduate School So Far

In March of this year I finally started pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing at a University I won’t be naming in this post. After being rejected by The University of Tampa last year- which was also my first rejection from any college/university- I was very hesitant and scared to think about applying to another school. What if I really wasn’t good enough to be a writer? What if I really wasn’t as creative as I thought I was? All these thoughts haunted me and depressed me for awhile, making it hard to think applying to another school.

But then back in February while doing a random scroll through on Facebook, I saw that someone in one of the writing groups I belonged to had gotten accepted into a Creative Writing MFA. So I wrote down the name of the school, Googled their number, called them, and in less than twenty-four hours I was accepted into the program. I was so happy and excited! Finally I was going to be able to earn the degree I had wanted for so long. It was a dream come true… well now that dream has turned into a nightmare and it’s one I haven’t been able to wake up from yet.

My journey with this degree started with a class that was all about mastering our life’s calling. To be honest, I rolled my eyes at it because clearly I knew what mine otherwise I wouldn’t be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing! But I quickly let it go as I found the book we had to read to be very interesting. For our final assignment we had to write a paper about a master in our field and why we chose them. I chose J.K. Rowling- this was prior to her “downfall”- and so I wrote my paper, using examples from interviews, magazines about Harry Potter, and then the book themselves. I was so proud of myself for this paper because I felt my knowledge, admiration, and all my examples were really strong. The paper had to be in APA format, which I had no prior experience with, so I followed the example paper she gave us so I could do it properly. After all, if she provided me the information, surely that was the correct way to write the paper! … WRONG! I ended up with a C on my paper, which is the lowest grade I have ever received on an academic paper in my entire life! And admittedly, it bruised my ego and damaged my self-confidence. And what made it worse was when I tried messaging her about it, she took forever to respond back to me. I tried questioning her about the example she gave us to figure out where I went wrong and she dodged my questions. Every email exchange after that first one, her response was the exact same every time. She didn’t even take the time to read my emails, she just kept copying and pasting her initial response! Eventually I gave up trying to talk to her and thankfully I won’t have her again, but that first class left a sour taste in my mouth and left me feeling like I had made a huge mistake in pursuing my degree. But me being the ambitious and stubborn person I am, I decided to keep going. I wish I could say things got better from there, but if they had I wouldn’t be writing this post!

My second class was titled The Art of Visual Storytelling. Though the class wasn’t my favorite, the professor who taught it has been the best graduate professor I’ve had so far. He made the most of our classes with information, funny stories, and always tried his hardest to answer everyone’s questions efficiently. He offered unique feedback and honestly, he was very weird, but that was why I liked him so much! Though the class wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be, having a good professor makes all the difference. So I left that class feeling better.

Then I started my third class, Character Creation and Development. The professor for this class seemed really nice and like we would get along well. I had a one-on-one meeting with her at the start of class just because I had gotten some conflicting information about the type of writing the school accepted and I had just wanted to be clear on everything. Things seemed great… until she docked me points on an assignment all because my antagonist had the same last name as her. She told me she didn’t mind being the villain in my story, but that it was unprofessional for my character to have the same last name as her. So I emailed her back explaining that the character was one I had been working with since my undergraduate degree and I was using the class to flesh him out better. After all, the class was called Character Creation and Development, so why not use that to flesh out my antagonist better? And honestly, if she saw any of herself in a vampire that is over four-hundred-years-old with a God complex and a taste for mass murder, then we should all be concerned. I was also docked points for the way I answered the question about what my characters have in their refrigerators. My antagonist, as a vampire, doesn’t have a refrigerator, he has a dungeon full of people he’s waiting to drain dry. And my protagonist lived in a time before refrigerators were invented, so meat and certain other foods had to be eaten as soon as possible. So being docked points over bullshit like that doesn’t seem right. It was then I realized that the professors don’t really care about the writing- they care more about how you use the tools they give you. Sorry not sorry, but if it’s a program for Creative Writing, then the writing should be what matters more. After all, if the time ever comes for me to approach a publisher with my novel, they won’t care what tools I used to write the novel, they will only care if the writing is strong and marketable.

At the point, I knew I had to talk to someone higher up in the program. So I called the University and got the information for the head of my program. After unsuccessfully trying twice to get in contact with her, I called the University again and let how upset I was be known. I felt like I was being yanked around and that my concerns weren’t important to anyone but me. When I was finally able to talk to someone, it was the head of the BA creative Writing program. While he was really nice and I enjoyed my conversation with him, ultimately nothing changed.

My next classes Script Analysis and Criticism and Episodic and Serial Writing were with the same professor and he was by far the worst professor I’ve had so far. His comments to everyone’s writing were the same and he was all about “The A story and the B story” and he constantly made references to his favorite movie Rocky. A group of us compared his feedback on our assignments and found they were either the exact same or very similar. I’ve never had such a lazy professor and I am very glad I won’t have him again.

My last class up til this point was Creative Writing Portfolio 1. Going into this degree, this is one of the classes I was most excited about. I felt this would be an amazing opportunity to get some really great writing done and to get constructive feedback that would help make my pieces stronger so when part 2 of this class starts, I’ll go into feeling confident. Instead, we spent the month of this class making a personal branding commercial and making a writer’s website. As someone who isn’t tech savvy and already has three blogs (one I had to create for school even though I have two already), I didn’t want to create my own website. I know branding is important. I know having a writer’s website is important. But that should be a separate class or at least be titled differently because all of us were taken aback when we found out we wouldn’t be writing. This class stressed me out so badly and my mental health declined so badly that I had to request a month off. Thankfully they approved it and now I have all of September to get myself to a better place mentally. I also plan on using this month to really reflect on things and figure out what direction I want to go in, not just for school, but in other aspects of my life.

If one positive thing has come out of this experience, it’s my GPA. Right now my GPA is at 3.8 and I am very proud of that! It makes the struggle feel worth it to see how well I’m doing even though I’m hating the experience. Another positive is that I made friends with four other women in my class and they are a wonderful and supportive group through everything, school, relationships, health, etc. As someone who is selectively social and overall terrible at making new friends, having them has really helped me. I’ve never been a believer that friendship should play any role when pursuing a degree. After all, we want the piece of paper that shows we worked our butts off! But having them has changed my mind because without their friendship and support, I would have quit the program during that third class! And if that had happened, well then I would have been a post short this month (kidding, sort of).

So if you’re currently in graduate school/or have been through graduate school, how has/was your experience? I would love to know! Have a great week everyone!

13 comments

  1. I have to agree with Liz, you should just tough it out and get the damn degree. You will have much to write about after this experience. And, your query will be a killer. Sometimes life puts you in a hole, fortunately your hole will soon be over. You might be surprised at how this will empower you. Best to you, Michelle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem is it’s making me more cynical than usual and admittedly, I’ve had so many moments where I’ve hated writing and question if I want to spend the rest of my life doing it… and that’s been because of this degree. And I shouldn’t be having any moments like that about something I love! Especially while pursuing a degree, which is supposed to benefit me in more than just having a piece of paper. A degree should never just be about the paper, ya know. That’s not what education should be about at all!

      As an educator, I know you understand how having good teachers versus bad teachers can impact a student. I’m dealing with a whole lot of bad ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get it! If it’s making you so cynical that you’re hating writing, that’s an enormous problem. And yes, I totally understand how a good teacher/bad teacher impacts you. A degree should never be about the piece of paper….but often it is. That doesn’t make it right, but sometimes it’s that way. You are at a crossroads. How many months to go? Can you tuff it out, even if you don’t write for a while? Only you can answer that, Michelle. That degree, which may only be a piece of paper, might be worth it in the long run. You might have to turn into a ‘Stepford Writer’ to get through. That’s a call only you can make. I hope throwing out these questions and thoughts to you might be helpful. Please keep me posted. I care.

        Like

      • A Stepford Writer… that’s such an interesting concept. That’s reason enough to stay in the program haha!

        In all honesty, I’ll probably stick with it and just use the GPA to get into another program at some point where I’m actually learning useful things and work on writing that actually means something to me. We’ll have some breaks because of holidays and all that, so I’m sure that will help break up the nonsense a bit.

        But thank you so much for your support and for caring. Seriously, it means so much to me and I don’t know how I got so lucky to have you come my way! I’m grateful for you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Michelle. It is certainly an interesting concept, and it just may take away the emotional pain in order to get that brass ring from your Merry Go Round. Now that you see the school holidays and breaks, you might me able to ‘just do it’. Who cares if you’re a Stepford Writer right now to get your degree? Nobody. Save your ‘good stuff’ for when it matters most, writing and publishing your books. I am so glad to help in any way. The least I can do is be your cheerleader, because you are a very good writer. Never forget that.

        Liked by 1 person

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