The Post-MFA Doldrums

I waffled for years over the MFA possibility before I found myself checking into the dorms. With three novel manuscripts beyond the first draft stage under my belt, I knew I was disciplined enough to stick to a writing schedule, even as I remained committed to my official career. No, I wasn’t worried about discipline. In my daily life I was struggling with a sense of isolation as I interacted with educators and librarians, but very few writers. The MFA program offered through Pacific University provided the writing nest I craved, not to mention another genre to work on, and I didn’t look back.

Not only did a new pile of poems continue to grow on my computer, one instructor encouraged me to put a musical cover on Voice Break and publish it. While he was no doubt thinking of a chapbook, I decided to take the plunge with CreateSpace in order to produce a print-on-demand paperback. This process was so sustaining, I followed suit with a book that included “The Ballad of the New Carissa,” as I figured a traditional poem running close to 3000 words would be a challenging to place.

Now I’m in the post-MFA doldrums, trying to feed my writing life on my own once more, not to mention get work out there. Fortunately, one of my fellow students lives in the area, and we’ve started our own writing group. And I finally stepped foot into the San Diego Writers, Ink facility, an edgy loft in downtown San Diego where workshops are regularly conducted (I am currently taking a poetry class from Steve Kowit).

While I’ve had plenty of poems tucked away for some time now, I’d been avoiding the publishing process, because I was already burnt out from trying to publish my two of my novels. Yet after filing my diploma away, I figured my poetry writing degree would go to waste if I didn’t try to place some of my work. I just wasn’t completely sure of how to go about it.

I did get lucky in the beginning, so I decided to tackle the whole process methodically. I took a stab at entering as many contests as I could find (no wins yet). Then I decided to submit almost every viable poem I’d written to one journal or another. I quickly learned that I was indeed lucky with those first submissions. As the rejections came pouring in, I decided I should probably just submit my best poems (if only I could determine which ones those were). A bunch of these pieces are currently “pending response,” and many have already been rejected.

Duotrope, an online writing resource, has become indispensible in this whole process. Their submissions tracker, which costs $50 a year, allows writers to easily organize submissions in an online database. This service also provides invaluable, up-to-date, information on literary publications. With a few keystrokes, a writer can quickly determine where they’ve sent any given piece, as well as figure out how long a particular publication has held it.

Their weekly poetry newsletter has inspired me to try yet a third approach: to focus on journals soliciting themed submissions. Today, for example, I submitted poems to publications looking for poetry on Harbors & Harbor Towns, Rebirth, Sound, and finally, Trash and Treasure. We’ll see if this method increases my odds.

As for the novels, well… I’ve got to get back to them. When I entered the MFA program, I already possessed several file folders full of rejections on the first two. I was definitely fishing for a reason to continue as I focused on the joy of poetry writing in graduate school.

I’ve now had ample time to lick my wounds, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to enter my second novel manuscript into some viable young adult novel contests (it does feel good to get back to this). IMHO, my first novel needs to be completely revamped (on the to-do list). And the last one was never finished (also on the to-do list).

Ah, discipline.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve graduated from Pacific University, and I continue to feel a certain momentum egging on my writing life. Let’s see if it holds up.