Department of Writing

Creative Writing Resources

Creative Writing RESOURCES:

Tools [Writing]

Information, Lists of Links, Warehouses, Magazines about Writing


GVSU/Grand Rapids/Local Resources

Other essential online resources

and some further reading:

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STEPS TO TAKE ON CONSIDERING GRADUATE SCHOOL AND
LIFE AFTER THE DEGREE:

About Graduate Programs

First off, students interested in thinking about graduate school in writing should consult the GVSU Grad School Wiki. It is updated more recently and significantly more often, and includes a LOT of information from current and former GVSU students who have gone on to apply to (and attend) grad schools.

Graduate programs in creative writing have been increasing exponentially over the last twenty years. Typically they offer most writers 1> time and space to write, 2> a structure and community in which to grow as writers (and in some cases work on a book-length publishable project), 3> further avenues for academic study of classic and contemporary literature or the theory and craft of writing, and 4> networking opportunities for writers and teachers.

Most graduate programs in Creative Writing don't require that you have an undergraduate degree in writing. And they typically will not guarantee you a job teaching creative writing (at least not in and of themselves). Given the increasing numbers of creative writing graduates and the relatively fixed number of tenure-track jobs, you should be aware that there is often intense competition for college teaching jobs. You should consider graduate study primarily as a time to work on your own writing, and to learn about other writers and the craft of writing. We'll get back to steps towards application later.

Graduate programs in Creative Writing come in three varieties:

1> THE MA (Master of Arts) of English is not a terminal degree; usually, MA programs are two-year programs that then lead into either an MFA or a Ph.D. program.

2> THE MFA (Master of Fine Arts) is the typical terminal degree for Creative Writers. It's primarily a performative degree, in that most MFA programs are focused (for better or for worse) less on scholarship and criticism and more on producing a publishable body of work (a novel, a collection of short stories, a collection of plays, a book of poetry, a memoir, or an essay collection).

3> THE PH.D. seems to be slowly becoming the terminal degree of choice for creative writers who want to teach at the college level. Ph.D. programs are typically more scholarly and focused on criticism and reading than a MFA degree. Until recently, there was no Ph.D. in Creative Writing; there were Ph.D.'s in English in which you would write a creative project instead of a critical dissertation. This trend has been changing for the last several years.

Some writers get one or more. Some writers get all three (!).

Getting Ready to Apply and Other Considerations

First, know that graduate programs in creative writing use the writing sample as their primary criterion for admission. It's probably obvious, but the quality of your writing is the most important thing. This may mean that you would be better served taking a year or two off after your undergraduate degree and working on crafting a stronger portfolio. This also means that you should--if you are applying to graduate schools--apply to a bunch. This is because judging creative work is highly subjective: one program may respect more experimental work, and another may respect more traditional work. Be smart and give yourself some options. Also, do the research. Read the writers who teach at the graduate programs you're applying to.

Another good reason to take some time off before applying to graduate schools is that you acquire more life experience and more material for your writing.

When you are going to apply, you'll need to line up some letters of recommendation from former teachers (3, typically). Do this well ahead of time. You'll probably have to take the GRE general exam, and possibly the GRE subject exam in English (program requirements vary). The portfolio is the biggest part--typically 10 poems or 25 pages or so of prose, so spend your time making your work as good as it can be (and if possible, show variety).

FUNDING: This is a major consideration for most graduate students. We recommend that you apply to programs which offer funding (either in fellowships/scholarships or more typically in teaching or research assistantships) to their students. Good programs do this. A teaching assistantship also lets you develop yourself as a teacher (especially useful for those considering teaching as a profession).

How to tell what's a good program for you, then? It might be worth consulting the U.S. News and World Report rankings (periodically updated) of graduate programs if reputation is important to you. Keep in mind, though, that it might be better to attend a smaller, less-well-known program. These are often less competitive, and often afford students more personal attention. Look at the writers you admire, and if they teach at a program, it might be worth applying there.

What to do, then, in the meantime?

Find a job that won't sap all your strength and energy, so you'll have time to write and read. CONTINUE TO WRITE. It's important to keep at it if you're serious about it. AND CONTINUE TO READ -- in case it even needs to be mentioned, serious writers are serious readers. Find ways to keep your creative juices flowing, whether this is through regular correspondence with former teachers or friends, a community or online workshop (the Internet offers many great possibilities for online communities), or whatever works for you.

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A BRIEF PRIMER ON LITERARY MAGAZINES,
SUBMISSIONS, ETHICS, AND ETIQUETTE:

Things you need to know before sending out your work to literary magazines:

  • SHOULD I SEND TO LITERARY MAGAZINES? No one can answer this question for you. It can be an awfully depressing prospect, since it can be quite difficult to get your work published (the best magazines get thousands and thousands of submissions, and can only use the ones they really love). But it can be very rewarding too. You should revise, revise, revise, and be as sure as you can be that a work is done before sending, certainly. But it's up to you to decide whether you're ready for (or even interested in) publication.
  • RESEARCH: it is often difficult for writers to get their work published. It can seem like an overwhelming task, especially considering the huge numbers of literary magazines out there. Always do your research on a magazine before sending. Either consult a book like Poet's Market or Writer's Market (available in most good bookstores) that gives information on what magazines want, and how they want it, or else take a look at their website (or, better, buy or borrow a copy of the magazine itself to see the kinds of work they publish).   
  • ETIQUETTE: Always send clean, typewritten (or printed/photocopied) work. Check the magazine's guidelines before sending to see if they have specific requirements. Double (or space-and-a-half) prose. Single-space poems. Usually send only one prose piece at a time, or 3-5 poems. ALWAYS include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) when sending through the mail. Most magazines will not respond without this (though some do accept email submissions). Usually magazines will respond to you within 6 months or so. If you haven't heard back from them after 6 months, and their guidelines don't specify, you can send a query letter their way, asking if they received it, and if so, have they made a decision on it yet (include a SASE when you do this). Don't call magazines to query. Some magazines accept email queries, but check with them first.
  • ETHICS/RIGHTS: The majority of literary magazines (both print and online) consider only work that hasn't been previously published elsewhere (they acquire "First North American Serial Rights," which means the work cannot have already appeared in a magazine in North America, though college literary magazines (like Fishladder) are usually excepted from this, since they aren't distributed nationally; this means you can probably send out a poem that previously appeared in Fishladder without having to acknowledge it). When a literary magazine publishes your work, they require that if you reprint it (in another magazine, a book, or an anthology) that they get a credit as its place of initial publication.  
  • HOW ABOUT COPYRIGHTS? DO I NEED TO COPYRIGHT MY WORK? The short answer is no. If it is published in a literary magazine, it is automatically copyrighted.
  • A SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSION means that you have send the same work simultaneously to more than one magazine. Be aware that some magazines explicitly disapprove of (and forbid) this practice (and some are fine with it--they usually specify in their guidelines). This is because it takes a lot of work to read seriously through a lot of submissions, and when an editor finally decides to accept a piece, when they find out that it's just been picked up by another magazine, they may get very annoyed. IF YOU DO SIMULTANEOUSLY SUBMIT, make sure that if you get a piece accepted at one magazine, you write immediately to other places that have it under consideration to let them know that it is no longer available.
  • HOW CAN I TELL IF A MAGAZINE IS A GOOD ONE OR NOT? Some projects, like the National Library of Poetry, will guarantee you publication if you give them money. BEWARE of these places. Often magazines will run contests (with cash prizes) that have entry fees, but that's different. If they charge you to read your manuscript, or to publish it, be wary. The best way to evaluate a magazine is to read it and see if they publish people you like or respect. A good magazine publishes good work.
  • ONLINE V. PRINT MAGAZINES: Increasingly, many literary magazines have gone online since their work potentially reaches very many more readers. Often (though not always) online magazines are easier to place work in (since they don't have to pay for printing costs). To read a brief essay about the increasing legitimacy (and the great possibilities) of online literary journals, click here. Copyrights work the same way as they do in print magazines--no one can copy your published work (legally).

A STARTER LIST OF LITERARY MAGAZINES, SOME OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO UNDERGRADUATES, AND SOME MORE GENERAL

all-undergraduate

Page last modified December 13, 2011