Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Getting Back at It: Life After Completing My MFA

By Shea Faulkner

In one of the final seminars at my graduating residency from the Converse College Low-Residency MFA program, my former mentor, Marlin “Bart” Barton, told all of the graduates to take a few weeks after completing the program as a break and then get back at it, warning us not to take a hiatus for too long. I remember listening to him say this as the thought arrogantly flitted through my mind, “Break? Whatever.”

My hubris was quickly tamed by my living situation. My husband and I had made the decision to move from the Upstate of South Carolina to Orlando, Florida during the final few weeks of my last semester in school. We’d sold our house, told our families, and signed a lease on our new home just before I headed off to my final residency. During all of this, I had managed to keep writing. Sure, I was primarily tweaking stories I had written for my creative thesis, but the fact remains I had been productive.

What I, na├»vely, failed to anticipate was the reality of the move. As residency drew to a close, I packed the last of my belongings and drove the 546-mile drive to the place where I now live. Over the course of a few days, I had said goodbye to my friends, to my family, and to my MFA program. A move that had originally seemed exciting suddenly seemed scary and depressing—I was now in a place with only my husband and our children with no friends, no job, no familarity.

For days after that drive, I cried, worrying my husband and friends, as I am not the emotional type. Once the crying subsided, legitimate depression set in. I spent weeks without leaving the house, showering, or staying awake long enough to help my husband with our children, but eventually things got better. First, my husband received a job offer at an awesome company. Not long after, I received a job offer to teach high school English at a private school. Our families came to visit, and we even made the trek back home at the end of the summer to visit with loved ones. Yet through all of this, I wrote nothing, Bart’s warning ever playing through my head to not wait too long to start writing again.

Soon, I was launched into a new job and gifted the luxury of two hours and thirty minutes worth of commute each day. I enjoyed the job, but I was exhausted. Time barreled by, and still I hadn’t started writing. Often, I doubted I’d ever write again. I was, simply, destined to be one of those people who get an MFA then stop writing. I had waited too long. As October came—the leaves not changing, the heat not waning in my new locale—I had more or less given up any concern for writing, convinced I had waited too long. My creative energy was non-existent and my time to write was even less detectable.

Back at residency in the summer, I’d made plans with a friend to attend the South Carolina Writer’s Conference in Myrtle Beach at the end of October. While I was excited to see my friend, I dreaded being surrounded by people all doing what I couldn’t seem to force myself to do, but the weekend was just what I needed. After a much-needed break from my normal life and a re-emergence into the world I love, I came home with tons of ideas and ambition.

It took a couple of weeks, but by early November, I’d set a writing schedule, vowed to participate in NaNoWriMo and started plotting a novel. It seemed I hadn’t taken too long to get at it after all. While I didn’t get anywhere near the 50,000 word goal, I had managed to reawaken my passion. So, I write this as a once-arrogant graduate of an amazing MFA program—even if it’s been years, get back at it.

Shea Faulkner is a graduate of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing program.  She works as a high school English teacher and moonlights as a fiction editor for South85 Literary Journal. She currently lives Orlando, Florida with her husband and two children.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.