A month into graduate school, I have decided that I need a pep-talk from myself. Hopefully, this is either amusing or helpful to others. At the very least, I hope it offers some insight into the struggles that graduate students face.
A list of ‘Do’s and ‘Don’t’s
1. Do make a valiant effort to write daily
And by writing I mean my own work. My fiction. In other words, this blog entry doesn’t count. Writing critiques of other people’s work also doesn’t count. However, reading and researching to further my own writing does count. Try to write for one hour, minimum. And recognize that some days I will write over a thousand words, and other days, I will numbly shuffle words around on the page for an hour.
2. Don’t talk or think about funding
I made the decision to come here, so I can’t bemoan the fact that I don’t have funding. Everyone is struggling financially, with or without funding. And talking/thinking about it only breeds bitterness, which is not healthy or helpful.
3. Do go to social events, including readings and parties
Even if I have schoolwork. Even if I am tired or even sick. Because it is important to not only be involved, but to have friends. These people will be in my life for at least three years, if not many more. Plus, writers should be in the world, experiencing it and enjoying it in order to more fully write about it.
4. Don’t overcommit to jobs outside of school
This is a tough one because I do need money. Still, I need to be aware that I am here to write. Therefore, if not following Rule 4 negatively impacts my ability to follow Rule 1, then there is a problem.
5. Do get involved in my program
Take part in teaching kids in the community to write as a part of the Creative Writing department’s program: Writers in Action. And be involved within the greater graduate school as well. Get excited about being involved in forming a graduate student LGBT group on campus. These are amazing opportunities!
6. Don’t excessively talk about my “projects,” particularly to friends who are not writers
So maybe my partner is okay with me giving her the play by play of all my stories, but not everyone wants to hear me talk about imaginary characters day in and day out. Also, talking too much about a project can kill said project. Remember this.
7. Do start my thesis early
Check and check. Because I don’t want to be freaking out about this in my third year, although that may be inevitable.
8. Don’t waste money
Practical advice. Also, it’s important to note that, having grown up in the middle class, I feel a certain amount of entitlement to money. As in, I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods. Be aware that lots of people can’t afford this. And now, I am one of them. But also be aware and grateful for the fact that this is a temporary state for me.
9. Do be grateful daily for this opportunity
I am so happy and thankful to be here at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, studying what I love.
Bethany Tap (’12) received her MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she also worked as the managing editor of Chautauqua: the literary journal of the Chautauqua Institution. She is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with her wife, Clarissa, and son, Alexander.