Advice for My Students

I began this page to help address the questions my students most often ask in office hours. Undergrads and recent graduates come seeking advice about how, where, why, and when to apply to MFA programs; graduate students ask for help knowing where to send their finished work and how to begin looking for agents. Although all of these students are unique individuals with specific predilections, talents, and needs, my initial advice to them tends to be the same. So I’m now posting a few short responses here on my website, in the hopes of helping my own students and anyone else who’s interested. I do my best to offer advice that’s nuanced, sober, humane, practical, and at least some of the time leavened with humor. My experience thus far has been that these articles have sparked more lively conversations: that if students still have questions, after having read one or more of these short essays, those questions tend to be more specific than they might have been before. Reading the relevant posts here before you come in for a conference on one of these questions can help make that conference more productive.

Below, you’ll find entries on the MFA application process, making your first forays into publication, and how to find a line of paying work that might suit you as a young writer. There’s also a section of more general advice, which includes a piece about submitting good applications for undergraduate workshops and another about how to ask for a letter of reference in a polite and professional manner.

Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed here? I welcome suggestions. Please post yours to my Facebook author page.

One last thing: If you’re thinking about applying to grad school, I recommend reading the posts about this topic on Koreanish, the blog of my writer friend Alexander Chee, who discusses the topic at greater length. Alex has also posted some thoughts on the idea of including safely schools when applying to MFA programs. His thinking is spot-on; the essay is well worth a read.

MFA Advice

When Should I Apply to MFA Programs?

Why Should I Apply to an MFA Program?

To Which MFA Programs Should I Apply?

Publishing Advice

When Do I Need an Agent? Or: How Do I Know When My Book Is Done?

How Do I Know When My Story Is Ready to Send Out?

How Do I Start Getting My Stories Published?

How Do I Get an Agent?

How Should I Respond When an Agent Contacts Me?

Jobs Advice

What's a Good Job for a Young Writer?

How Would You Describe a Job That Would Work for a Young Writer?

What's Worked for You?

Did You Say "An Electrician?"

Is It Necessarily a Choice Between Writing & Having Money?

Further Reading


General Words of Wisdom for Students

How Can I Improve My Chances of Being Accepted to an Undergraduate Workshop?

How Do I Ask a Professor for a Letter of Reference?