Writing Lessons: Rhonda White

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In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Rhonda White, a soon-t0-be graduate of Converse College’s low-residency MFA program. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

Rhonda - headshotWriting is a solitary process, and that may be why some of us join an MFA program to begin with—to make connections with other writers. To find community. But here’s the perfect flaw of an MFA program: it reaches an end.

From my first residency, I knew I would enjoy the program, but I also saw, in the eyes of the graduating students, that it would end too quickly—that the important relationships I built along the way would come to an abrupt end if I didn’t make a concerted effort to prolong them. I didn’t want to see in my own reflection the panic of loneliness I saw in those students’ eyes on their last day of class, so I went to work to keep that from happening.

Early in my first semester, I established a private Facebook group open only to the program’s current fiction students (my chosen concentration). Members of the group commiserated over long study hours and lost sleep, compared reading lists, and discussed course assignments—and when the next semester approached, we invited incoming students to our group as soon as they were accepted into the program, so that they arrived at their first residency feeling confident among friends with whom they already had a strong connection (something I sincerely wished I’d felt my first day on campus). Throughout the program, our Facebook group has grown to include nearly every fiction student in the program, and we’ve grown closer than I’d ever have imagined.

As I’ve approached graduation, however, I’ve realized I’ll no longer have as much in common with these students, because their homework and residency concerns will no longer be mine. So I started a second group, this one made up of fiction program graduates. We already share advice on how to juggle the day-job with personal responsibilities, while still finding productive writing time. We share contacts and calls for submissions, we commiserate over rejections, and we plan to attend conferences together. We remain close.

A strong MFA or post-MFA network can’t rely solely on Facebook or alumni meetings, of course, so use the time during your program to build connections with faculty members outside your genre, as well as your mentors. Send thank-you notes to visiting lecturers and writers from whom you’ve learned an important lesson. Remain in contact with those with whom you’ve made a positive connection (though not in a stalker-ish way, please). Use your MFA years to network and build relationships that will last throughout your writing career. Because in the end, an MFA program is what you make of it.

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