Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Mid-Point

Until today, I was feeling pretty good about the MFA application process. I've been telling myself that I'll get in somewhere. I believe in all the positive thinking stuff, not because some cosmic force pushes things forward just because we want it to, but because if you have true convictions that something will happen for you, you are more likely to fully commit to it. Negative thinking, conversely, brings up questions like "why bother?" So, I kept telling myself, this will happen. Just keep going.

I have wanted to celebrate reaching the halfway point in my graduate school applications. I finally submitted the eighth application on Sunday, and I finally felt like I was getting a grip on the whole thing. Only seven more, I thought, and then I wait.

I needed to do a little bit of research on a school today in order to write my personal statement, so I scoured everything that came up in my search from "official" top school lists to the comments sections on MFA blogs. Reading the latter, as with reading nearly any comments section on the internet, was a mistake.

There is nothing like reading dozens of fellow applicants' "Where I'm Applying" lists, many of which have schools that overlap my own list, to serve as a reminder of just how many people I am up against. For example, one of my top programs accepts 15 fiction students out of approximately 500 applicants. For those of you who are as shitty at math as I am, don't bother getting out the calculator, because I'll tell you - that's 3%.

Even for the "less selective" schools, acceptance rates aren't that much higher; you're lucky to find anything in the double digits. In a field as subjective as creative writing (or any art), there is no such thing as a safety school. There really isn't even a "good" or "bad" school, necessarily. No one, not even the most amazing writer, gets into every school. I guarantee that even a published, seasoned, otherwise successful writer couldn't get into every school if (s)he were to submit an application under a pseudonym.

I decided to apply to fifteen schools for two reasons: first, because I want to increase my chances of getting in somewhere; second, because there is no surefire way to narrow down programs which will be the best fit, so I'd rather cast a wide net. But I've begun to wonder - what if I spread myself too thin? What if I neglected one personal statement or skipped a step on an application because I was busy fretting over something else on a school where I didn't even have a chance? What if no one even looked at the application I spent hours putting together, because the school filled all their spots before the deadline (yes, this happens)?

Even worse, what if this entire process is completely futile? What if I get in nowhere? What if I get into one or two schools, but get no funding whatsoever? This is not just my imagination; it is a very real possibility, and it happens all the time. One of the writers who commented on an MFA blog, a poet, said that he got into only two schools, sans funding, and had to turn down his offers and say, "better luck next year." And this person had been published before.

I have never been published. I have never had my writing abilities evaluated outside of college and my friends and family. My loved ones have been incredibly supportive; they have been encouraging me and cheering me on and telling me that I will be successful. I can't say how much I appreciate such encouragement, and it has kept me going through some doubtful moments. However, with apologies for appearing to dismiss the aforementioned compliments, this says nothing about how an admissions committee will view my work. I am up against thousands of other writers, pretty much all of whom have wanted to write their whole lives, and all of whom have all been told by at least one person that they are good writers. And they all think that they want it the most, just as I think the same. What makes me different? What makes me better? I have no real grounds to say I am more talented, ambitious, or deserving.

I have been in the creative arts and working world long enough to be able to deal with some rejection and disappointment. I'll certainly need to deal with it over and over again as a writer, MFA or not. But I've never poured so much, nor hung so many hopes, on one dream. And though I hate myself for such pointless vanities, I can't stand the thought of going back to all those people I've told about my efforts and announcing that I failed. That I'm not good enough, that I'm going to keep having to push a mail cart for a while until I can find a job that actually requires more than a high school education.

The stress is really starting to take its toll - writing, editing, printing, posting, lists, exorbitant fees, late nights from meeting deadlines or just laying around worrying - and sometimes I can barely justify it. I wonder if everybody's outwardly cheering me on, but secretly wondering what the hell I'm doing all this for. Oh, how sweet. She thinks she's going to be a writer. We'll see. In truth, I haven't been writing at all, outside of application-related stuff - not even quick morning exercises. I've been blocked and unmotivated creatively, and in turn self-loathing for my laziness. (Clearly, this blog has been neglected as a result, which I am partially trying to remedy through this depressive prattle.) I then wonder, even if I do get accepted to school, will I be able to handle it? If I stop writing every time I get stressed, what does that say about me and my drive? What business do I even have telling strangers what a great work ethic I have when I'm not even so sure?

But I'll keep going anyway. I have eight lines on my spreadsheet waiting to be colored in and marked as "completed," not to mention recommendation letters which cannot go to waste over the neuroses of the applicant whose virtues they are supposed to extol. I just must finish, if for no other reason than to say that, for once in my life, I decided I wanted something and committed 100% to it.


  1. You sound like any true artist- self-deprecating and tortured. The good news is, mom and I both had very similar dreams on the same night about you that involved various things that symbolize success, change, growth, and prosperity. Hope you find that encouraging :) I can give you details of the dreams later, if you want :)

  2. I'm going through the same process with Clinical Psychology PhD programs. Super competitive. I've been wait-listed a couple times and this is my third (and final) attempt at applying. This year I got some belated advice to stay off the forums that tell you who got interviews, which is rough but worth it. The application process, the personal statements, panicking over whether or not you overlooked a component, rec letters - I commiserate and wish you the best of luck! =)

  3. @Jenny: If by "self-deprecating and tortured," you mean, "whiny and annoying." Never write blog posts under the influence of extreme depression, kids.

    @Tanya: Thanks for the support and commiserating. You're absolutely right - I need to stay away from those forums. I still have seven apps to finish...and they won't get done if I'm fretting about Johnny Hipster getting into my top fiction program choices.


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