How I’m mentally preparing for graduate school

just after reading the acceptance email

After two years off from higher education and a great deal of thinking about my future (albeit, a lot of ruminating too), I have decided to begin graduate school this fall. I will be studying (drum roll………) Creative and Professional Writing, working towards an MFA! My intended genres are creative nonfiction (primary) and science writing (secondary). I am incredibly excited by this flexible, low-residency program, but I am also incredibly nervous about having a go at pursuing writing more formally. I’m nervcited, to use the fancy-pants literary term.

I came to this decision in both a fast but slow way. Like I said, figuring out what I wanted took time. For two years, I bounced around between ideas of over twenty different fields, including continuing with biology, which is what I studied in undergraduate. But while taking an early morning walk a few weeks ago listening to Hamilton and reveling in how much I love the arts, I had a moment of clarity. I sat down and wrote an essay on my phone about how much I love the arts and why I feel societal pressure to go into a STEM field instead. This essay helped me process my thoughts on choosing writing. That morning, I accepted what I already knew: I like science, but I love writing. I want to try being a professional writer. I went home and began applying to MFA programs.

Last week, I was accepted to and committed to my first-choice program at WCSU. I begin in about 11 weeks, not that I’m counting down the days. I think that’s a good sign though that I’ve made a good choice. Clearly, writing and reading are activities I greatly enjoy. What am I aware of though is that OCD likes to attack what we love, and my OCD already has experience attacking school. I don’t expect to have a perfect, OCD-free graduate school experience, but I want to have a healthier experience than high school and undergraduate.

To help ensure this, I’m already planning ahead mentally for how I will keep OCD and anxiety in check. Here are my ideas so far.

First, I can already hear my OCD adding new pressure to write well, for example, in blog posts, essays for school, emails to new professors, and even social media posts all because now I’m a writing student. And frankly, OCD, that is ridiculous. I’m the same person as I was before I enrolled in graduate school. I’m being mindful of these perfectionism urges and the fact not all first drafts, in fact many, are not good writing. That is the entire point of editing and rewriting: to improve the piece. There is so much farther to go after a first draft. Also, a main goal for me in getting an MFA is to learn and get better at writing. How can I grow if I don’t write often and poorly sometimes?

Likewise, my approach to graduate school will be one of curiosity and playfulness. I think this will help me approach the schoolwork as a learning experience, rather than as a test to somehow prove myself. I want to do well, of course, but I more so want to improve as a writer, no matter where I’m starting or how far this takes me.

Logistically, I plan to schedule fun. Maybe that sounds silly, but I can very easily become too invested in schoolwork and only schoolwork. Scheduling outside fun keeps me sane, figuratively and literally. I want to continue socializing with friends, family, and my boyfriend. I will still be participating in community theater. My cat gives me great company, and I like visiting other kitties at the Humane Society. I may even try to throw in some not-for-school reading and writing, like on this blog.

Finally, I think that fact that I will be studying something I genuinely consider fun will make a huge difference. I’m not saying that I am always in the mood to write. I’m not. No one is. What I’m saying is though I liked biology and other STEM fields, I rarely described studying biology as fun. Maybe the labs or field work were a little more fun, but the bulk of the work was incredibly stressful. And maybe that was because for most of college, my OCD was so severe. But I do know that I’m in a healthier place now, and writing is just plain fun despite any stress.

Morgan

3 comments

  1. Love the note of scheduling time to have fun! I found that there is a general feeling of guilt at the grad level for doing anything outside of studying/working. OCD only compounds that for me, even though, in reality, breaks and self-care do more than any cramming session ever has for me. So proud of you for the grad school plans!

    Liked by 1 person

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