Day in the Life of a Creative Writing MFA Student

Creative Writing MFA student Ashling Chupak on a walk through the Boston Common near Emerson's campus
Creative Writing MFA student, Ashling Chupak on a walk in the Common.

If you’re considering grad school, you’ve likely asked yourself a dozen questions before even deciding whether or not to apply. And yet, even after narrowing down where you want to go and study, applying, and being accepted (congrats!), you probably still have questions about what to expect once you get there.

While I can’t quite answer all those questions for you, I can share my experience as a second-year grad student in Emerson’s Creative Writing MFA program as part of our Day in the Life series, aimed at giving you a look into what grad life is really like!

Daily Routine

As a full-time student who only works part-time, the primary difference between my day-to-day schedule is whether or not I have class. Luckily, the majority of classes for grad students are in the evening to accommodate those who work 9 to 5, so it’s possible to keep your daytime routine pretty consistent.

Regardless of whether or not I have class, I start every morning around 7 a.m. with a (few) cup(s) of coffee and my morning pages – at least three pages of stream-of-consciousness freewriting. A great practice for emptying your mind and warming up your brain as a creative, they are a popular exercise from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I usually try to transition into whatever I’m working on next with an easy article to read, though lately, I’ve also been obsessed with the NYT’s Wordle.

Daily Routine: Days Without Class

Image of a book cover, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, overlooking the Boston Harbor at sunset.
Relaxing with some reading before sunset.

On my days without class I try to structure the main part of my day around knocking out any major writing I need to do, whether that’s working on my latest fiction piece for workshop or a paper for another course. Because my position as the Graduate Admission Writing Assistant is part-time (and intentionally designed not to interfere with my course work), I schedule most of my work hours on days that I have class. That way, I have more uninterrupted time to write fiction – something that’s especially helpful when I’m drafting a new short story.

Once I feel like I’ve made some decent writing progress (I find measuring my word count more helpful than pages completed), I’ll usually try to take a break to squeeze in a workout, do some meal prep for class days, or other housework and errands before it gets too late in the afternoon. Then I’ll try to tackle any of my reading – which can range from academic papers, to magazine articles, or even a whole novel – or any of my other, less writing-intensive assignments, before taking time to eat dinner and relax in the evenings. Personally, as much as I love my classes at Emerson, the days I spend reading and writing are the ones that really make me feel like I’m living my dream!

Daily Routine: Days With Class

After my usual morning routine, I’m out of the apartment around 8 a.m. and either walking about a half mile to the T to try my luck on the Green Line, or a little more than a mile to Emerson’s campus from the North End. My first stop is usually the Writing, Literature, and Publishing graduate student lounge on the tenth floor of the Ansin Building, where I can set up shop to work for a few hours with one of my favorite views (and the free coffee doesn’t hurt either).

From there, my day pretty much revolves around classes. My first semester at Emerson, I took a course called Teaching College Composition. Emerson’s  MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing & Writing programs both offer grad students the opportunity to gain training and experience in teaching writing as instructors for the Writing Studies Program – from noon to 1:45. While this is a fairly uncommon class time for most graduate courses (you might find a section or two available), I did enjoy having extra evenings free!

After finishing up my work hours or afternoon class, I’ll head to the Common for some outdoor time and to eat lunch (weather permitting) or scope out a reservable private study room on Spacebook so that I can hang out on/near campus until my evening class from 6-9:45 p.m. Usually I’ll use this time to finish up any last preparations for class, like a final read-through or comments on a classmate’s workshop piece or reviewing an assigned reading for the upcoming session. On the rare days I don’t have homework left to do, I might risk a trip back home, especially if I haven’t made dinner to eat during a break in my evening class. Spending more than twelve hours on campus can be a lot!

Into the Evening

Perhaps the most important element of the MFA in Creative Writing is the workshop, which typically meets from 6-9:45 p.m. once a week. The main focus of any workshop is reading and critiquing your and your classmates’ original work, be it poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, and most professors will include some kind of lessons or readings on craft as they see fit. While it can certainly be daunting to submit your creative work to a room full of strangers, I’ve found the comments and questions from my classmates and professors at Emerson to be incredibly insightful and beneficial to my work – even if/when I didn’t like hearing them.

Though the class itself can feel long as it progresses into the evening hours, I almost always leave with a renewed sense of energy about my work.

Image of a Creative Writing MFA workshop in action, 11 students and the professor seated at desks facing each other in a circle, the professor in the center of the photo, pointing at a student with a raised hand to their right.

Making Time for Fun

As often as possible, I try to get together with a few of my friends in my cohort to catch up on what we’re working on, how classes are going, or anything else that we can particularly relate to as a group of writers.

Between graduate classes meeting once a week, or even online-only, and the solitary nature of writing, I found that this really helped me feel excited about my progress and connected to a community of creatives, even if it costs a few dollars or hours of sleep. (Check out this helpful list of free or discounted activities for students for some ideas!)

Otherwise, the most I can manage after class ends is summarizing important notes, jotting down a fleeting story idea, or catching a mindless TV episode before bed! Inevitably though, deadlines stack up, and I’ll find myself burning the midnight oil on an assignment at the last minute during the tougher parts of the semester – it can be really easy to de-prioritize your other activities when that happens, but don’t be like me! Taking care of yourself is hugely important to working sustainably on your writing. I try to make sure I take at least one day 100% “off” per week – meaning no academic assignments, reading, or writing – to give myself a break.

Image of the Boston skyline taken from a rooftop at sunset.

Hopefully this glimpse into a day in my life as a Creative Writing grad student at Emerson has inspired you to look into our many grad programs, or at least given you an idea of what to expect if you’re already headed to Boston! If it sounds like Emerson is the grad school for you, feel free to reach out to our graduate admission team for more information.

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Ashling Chupak is the Graduate Admissions Writing Assistant and a fiction writer in her second year as a Creative Writing MFA candidate at Emerson College.

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