Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Earning an MFA in creative writing comes with benefits that will last a lifetime. You’ll be qualified to teach college fiction-writing classes, much like buying a lottery ticket makes you qualified to win a million dollars. You’ll learn the craft of refining your craft. You’ll develop a network of peers you can seek out for advice and obsessively compare yourself to until you one day die in a fit of envy and alcohol poisoning. The more prestigious programs have career benefits as well; the day you graduate from the Iowa Writers Workshop, your unpublished short story collection will magically appear in hardcover on the shelves of Powell’s Books. Success, fame, and fortune are the easy part. The hard part is getting in. Here’s how you can.[pullquote]Less selective institutions might have an acceptance rate as high as 20 percent. Those are lousy odds, but if numbers were your thing, you wouldn’t be applying to MFA programs.[/pullquote]
Step 1: Research
To find the program that’s the best fit, you’ve got to do your homework on prospective schools.
- Look up their acceptance rate, which at some schools is so small that they can only be seen by microscope. Less selective institutions might have an acceptance rate as high as 20 percent, meaning your odds of failure are only four out of five! Those are lousy odds, but if numbers were your thing, you wouldn’t be applying to MFA programs.
- Do they have famous faculty or alumni? This is crucial for name-dropping purposes at cocktail parties.
- How much financial aid is available. Are there fellowships? Teaching assistantships? There are always student loans; as your MFA pays dividends the rest of your career, so too will you write checks to Nelnet for the rest of your miserable life.
- Map each campus’ proxmity to ponds, woods, mountains, or other writerly thinking spots for when you need to retreat from your three-year-long writing retreat.
- Create a detailed spreadsheet of local bars and coffee shops, including house blends, tap lists, Wi-Fi passwords, drink specials, jukebox content, and the condition of their respective foosball and shuffleboard tables.
Step 2: Assemble your Application[pullquote]Statement of purpose: “My purpose is to get into your MFA program, duh.” They’ll appreciate a straight-shooter like you.[/pullquote]
Your application will probably include the following elements:
- Letters of recommendation. Writers find it incredibly flattering to be asked to write letters of recommendation, so don’t be shy. If you know any published writers, approach them first. Be courteous, yet direct. “Dear Mr. R. R .Martin: Hi, I’m that guy who writes witty replies to all your tweets. I’d have a lot less free time if I got into graduate school, if you catch my drift.” If you don’t know any published authors, maybe ask a writing-advice columnist whose work you enjoy but who is secretly insecure and needs constant validation from readers to stave off the feeling that all his work is naught but meaningless bleating into the void. Yes, that’d be an especially good option.
- Statement of purpose. This is a trick. Schools weed out pretentious jerkwads by baiting them into rambling about “artistic vision,” or confessing that an MFA program provides a legit-sounding excuse to break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Your statement: “My purpose is to get into your MFA program, duh.” They’ll appreciate a straight-shooter like you.
- Portfolio. Most schools ask for up to thirty pages of original fiction. They’re trying to be nice and spare you the expense of excess postage. If you’ve got the financial means, or a non-maxed credit card, go ahead and ship your whole novel (unless you’ve written a series, in which case only send three or four of the books, you don’t want to overwhelm them). On the other end of the spectrum, are you a witty raconteur on Twitter dot com? Think how many tweets you can fit into thirty pages! Each one is a story in miniature, and with so many to choose from, the readers are bound to like two or three of them.
- Include an SASE. So they can send you bad news more easily.
Step 3: Applicate
It’s time to submit. Stick all that stuff into a manila envelope and send it on its way. Nothing to do now but wait for all those acceptance letters to roll in. This is the most nerve-wracking part of the process. Most applicants deal with it in the following ways:
- Lament that you declined to pay extra for delivery confirmation.
- Reread your portfolio pieces and spot two grammatical errors.
- Track your failure in real time via MFA blogs! Some websites allow applicants from all over the country to post when they got an acceptance or rejection letter. Remember how, in The Hunger Games, every night they fired a cannon shot for each child that had been brutally murdered that day? That was a trick question! If you’re reading and writing stuff like The Hunger Games, you’re not cut out for an MFA, you poseur.
Step 4: The Verdict
Prepare yourself to receive one of the following three letters:
- You’ve been accepted! You can’t wait to get to campus to work with these brilliant literary minds.
- You’ve been waitlisted. That’s okay, the faculty is just so-so, and it was a fall-back school anyway.
- You’ve been rejected. Better luck next year. Don’t feel bad, you just didn’t read this article as closely as you should have, nor did you get your hopes high enough. There’s always next year, when you’ll apply to a creative writing PhD program.
Have you gotten into an MFA program? Well la-di-da! The comments section is a great place to share your advice. Or to, you know, ask any famous authors who might be writing this column to write you a recommendation letter.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!