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Sep 25, 2019 Return to Blog Homepage

Maximizing Breaks for Professional Development

Image of a book with pages folded to say the word Books

Like many graduate students, summer break was not the kind of break for me it used to be in undergrad. Instead of spending my days relaxing at the beach or by a pool, I used a lot of the time to work on exciting projects related to my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree.

Over the summer, I published a novel that I’d written before entering my program, went on a book tour of the Northeastern and Midwestern part of the United States, and used time at a writers’ residency in Tennessee to finish a draft of my thesis project.

When my book All City came out from a New York-based independent press in June, I launched the book at McNally Jackson bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and did a reading at New School University in Manhattan, then went on to do events at Wooden Shoes Books in Philadelphia, Women and Children First in Chicago, Pages on the Avenue in Detroit, Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis, Mac’s Backs here in Cleveland, and a reading with Literary Youngstown.

While this may seem mostly like a fun road trip (and it was!), it was also a valuable CV-building experience. Creative writing CVs often contain a component of invited readings and lectures, and these events went directly onto that part of my document. Additionally, they gave me opportunities to strengthen my ability to speak publicly and intelligently about my work through answering on-the-spot questions by audience members at events, a skill quite important for any writer to have.

After I returned from my trip, I was informed that I’d been given a fellowship by Sundress Academy for the Arts in Tennessee that would have me staying in what the organization referred to as a “Writers’ Coop," and would give me uninterrupted time to write. The Writers’ Coop was an actual refurbished chicken coop a quarter mile away from a working farm and into the woods of an Appalachian “holler.” There was no running water or electricity in the cabin, so I spent two weeks, by the light of a kerosene lamp, writing a new draft of my thesis (which happens to be a Pennsylvania Gothic novel full of Appalachian ghost stories). While I did scare myself senseless, I’ve come into the last year of my program with a twice-revised draft of my Master’s thesis – a pretty good place to be.

Additionally, I’m trying to work another internship into an elective spot for my program so I can do work with the organization that had me down to their residency, Sundress Academy for the Arts. I’ve tried to use the internship component of my degree program to work in the wider literary community as often as possible, and am hoping to learn skills like grant-writing and editing through signing on for an additional one in my last semester. As many internships and much entry-level work are unpaid or low-paid in writing and publishing, it’s been vital for me to do this work while I can get credit for it in my degree program so I can go into the post-MFA job-search world better prepared.

While I absolutely recommend getting in your beach days over summer break as often as possible, it’s also possible to have fun and build your CV and get a head start on your coursework during your time off. It’ll put you in a great place in the fall and reduce stress during the semester -- and you might even get to experience something like living and working in a coop for two weeks.

- Alex DiFrancesco

Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing, Current student