The Life of a Writer: Reasons to Consider a Low-Residency Program


For many people, this summer will either consist of actively looking for grad programs, or putting off the inevitable.  Hello undergraduate classes of 2014!

I’ll be posting a general article on searching and applying to grad schools, but for now I’d like to focus on why I ultimately chose a low-residency program.

Let me start off by indulging in my own story.

When I got to the end of my junior year of undergrad at Knox College (where President Obama spoke recently), I had decided to go the route of the MFA instead of continuing with political science or law.

Now, where to apply?

Of course, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop was one school I was going to apply to.  It was one of those decisions that went, “I’d rather not look back and think, ‘what if’.”  It’s the creative writer’s pipe dream, and those who get in are extremely happy when they do.

So, aside from that? Now what?  I’ll detail that process in a later post.  Eventually, I went through and picked six programs I’d apply to, four full-residency programs, one low-residency program, and one summer program.

Months later, and I got back a wait-list, two rejections, and three acceptances.  Pretty good stats, considering that one of the rejections was the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (which I expected).

The program was the Denver Publishing Institute, so I accepted that, since it wouldn’t have interfered with any other program I chose.  (More on Denver later.)

Well, in regards to those other two programs, one was a full-residency (which shall remain anonymous) and the other was a low-residency at Pacific University.

Both programs were extremely good.  The differences came down to the lifestyle situation (and in my case, visa options).

Just a note to international students: I’ll have another post soon on the visa hoops that I’m going through now. Oh yes, the OPT.

Alright, back to the choice OF ALL CHOICES!!!

As many people know, a traditional program would in some cases be a repeat of an undergraduate degree: you go to class, you have homework, you may in fact live in a dorm.

The work will be harder, for sure, but the lifestyle would be the same as a student.

The pros: often these programs have literary publications you can get involved in; you have an in-person community of peers who could be potential life-long friends and readers; you don’t have to think about housing and food options if you live on-campus (of course you’ll still have to figure out paying the room & board fees).  These are all things to seriously consider.

While my undergraduate experience was good, I didn’t want the lifestyle.  I had already moved out of the dorms by my junior year, and didn’t want to go back.

In hindsight, it’d be nice to have a more consistent mailing address instead of hopping around like I’ve been doing since I graduated (what my advisor calls “Suitcase Rana”).

But, I’m a writer. And like any other writer, I’ll create no matter what.  That was the most important thing to me: what is life like as an actual author?

Well, a traditional program (for all the perks) leaves you in an ivory tower.  You get all the time you want to focus solely on your writing, which is why you’re there in the first place.  Real writers aren’t all in academia.

Well, with a low-residency program: you’ve got a job.  Maybe you have a mortgage, maybe you have really noisy kids, maybe your car broke down and the engineer is making you pay through the nose to fix it, but you still have to set aside time to write.

That was what I wanted: a stepping stone into the actual life of a writer.  Real writers may not have deadlines being monitored by a professor, or detailed feedback, so a low-res has a little more guidance than a full-blown, on-your-own writing life.

I’ve been to one residency (a ten day writing retreat with craft lectures, faculty readings, student readings, and workshops) where I met great people of different backgrounds.  I loved being there, I learned a lot, and met people who weren’t just continuing on from the class of 2013.  Everyone was supportive and gave care to other people’s work.

It trains you, for two years to get into the habit.  That was ultimately why I chose it (also, most of my favorite poets happen to teach here).

Now, excuse me, I’ve got to get to writing!

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