Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coping with MFA Rejection (Part 1): Reality Check

The MFA situation is looking increasingly bleak for me.

I’ve received five definitive rejections (3 by standard mail and 2 by e-mail). Of the remaining four, two are finished or nearly finished notifying the accepted and waitlisted—I know this because my fellow applicants are prompt in reporting their news, good and bad, in the comments section of the MFA blog.

For me, that leaves two schools, which are no less selective than the other seven—all of these programs accept 1-3% of applicants.

UT-Austin – rejected
Wisconsin – rejected
Michigan – rejected
Brown – rejected
UMass-Amherst - rejected
Indiana – presumed rejection
Florida – presumed rejection
UVA – ?
UC-Irvine – ?

Some programs notify acceptances by e-mail but most do it by phone. Yesterday around lunch time I received a call from an unknown number (gasp!). It was an automated message, asking if I was interested in a professional carpet cleaning service.

I’m pissing on the next carpet I see.

Getting turned down by my top choice in Austin was a big reality check.  Since then I've had more reality than I care to acknowledge. Here's a difficult confession: I thought my getting into at least one of these programs was a virtual guarantee. I was that confident. But sharing the experience of the past three weeks online with other applicants reminds me how long I’ve not been part of a writing community, how vital feedback is, and how many other talented writers exist out there.

A range of negative feelings accompany these rejections. There’s disappointment, obviously. Also anger, that my work has now been rejected by forty-plus journals and seven grad schools. Jealousy, over the success of some of my fellow applicants—a few rock stars received offers from multiple top programs, most of which were on my list. Anxiety, and self-pity, as I watch my chances slowly dwindle.

And shame. I’m ashamed at feeling jealousy and self-pity, even if it is only natural. And I'm ashamed I may not get in when I’ve spoken about little else since September. Whenever conversation demanded personal news, mine was always grad school: my reasons for applying, my top choice and why, etc. That’s a lot of anticipation-building to arrive at such a disappointing verdict. Can we all just pretend I was playing indoor soccer or learning to knit for the past six months?

If things don’t work out, I’m confident I’ll be able to cope and move on to Plan B. In fact, I’m already proud of myself for how quickly I’ve been able to process these feelings and emerge resolute.

The problem is that each lull between rejections is enough to get my hopes up again, and each new denial enough to sink me anew. It’s bringing out the worst in me—I’m mopey and asocial with my friends, I'm irritable and spacey at work. I’m unmotivated to have fun, to be productive, and especially to write (fiction at least). I want this process to be finished so I can deal with it and move on, for the full disappointment to sting me as swiftly as the proverbial Band-Aid. Instead I feel like a strip of duct tape has been applied and torn off my inner thigh seven times with a long pause between each, and two rips to left to go.

Incidentally, my avoiding workshops for the last six years was a conscious decision, and in light of current events I have to be careful not to regret that choice. On my best week I could only muster about 8-10 hours to work on the book. If I were in a workshop I’d have spent much of that time reading and critiquing the work of others. Moreover, I knew that much of what I wrote was weak, but I pushed through for the sake of finishing, knowing I'd come back to it later and with better perspective. Until I get a passage worked out to my satisfaction, I’m my own best editor. It’s when the work appears near-perfect that I need others to see what I can’t. In short, feedback on such an early draft would have been largely wasted, and possibly overwhelming.

I’d always intended to get back into workshops, hence the MFA applications. But maybe I need to clock some workshop hours before I can go full time. So be it.

Read "Coping with MFA Rejection, Part 2: Support and Perspective"


Eeyore said...

I can't write during this period either! I feel so unmotivated. Thanks for sharing your experience. You're not alone.

Susan said...

Completely feel you. I'm down 5 rejections, assume rejections from...well, pretty much the remaining 7. I am so embarrassed now and avoid talking to friends and family because i don't want them to ask, "any news?" Yup, and it's all bad. Everyone approaches writing differently, though, and maybe your applications were premature? That's what I'm telling myself. I have not shared my work with others, and thought an MFA was a first step, not a last step to take after getting published and workshopped, but after seeing ppl on the MFA blogs with books and stories published, i know i'm not in that group. I really liked my submitted work every time after I reread it until this week, ha! When I say "premature," that's not to make you feel bad at all. Rather, the opposite--when you do get into your best work, it probably will be something many ppl will enjoy and want to publish and want to accept you into their programs for. We can all be our best and our worst editors, but everyone needs feedback. It's scary to do that, though. Have you thought of any alternate plans for next year?

mulleina said...

Hang in there, girl.

Jim C. said...

@ Eeyore - And thank you for sharing yours!

@ Susan - I think there's a very good chance my application was premature. Again, no regrets about approaching things the way I have for the past six years... just means I have to learn about MFA admittance the hard way. If it comes down to reapplying next year, I'll be ready.

@ mulleina

Though I'm occasionally suspected of being gay (I'm not), I don't think anyone's ever called me a girl before. :)

vyhnal said...

your description of rejection and bandaids sounds exactly like my latest foray into "trying to be cool and mellow and have fun and not take relationships too seriously". Ha.

Anonymous said...

Don't fret

Anonymous said...

mfa programs feed a dual need...first...they feed off a writers need for reinforcement and fear of rejection....second...there is an elitist, ego driven need which is fulfilled by acceptance into a so called top program...talent is talent...and with most top 50 programs at less than %5 acceptance....its really no more than a numbers game...which is why I focused on lesser known programs with a one in four chance