If you’re passionate about writing fantasy, mystery, romance, or any other popular fiction genres, you may be wondering if a graduate writing program is worth the investment. To help answer this question, we’re spotlighting Taija Williams-Adams, a current student in Emerson’s Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing MFA program. We’ll hear from them about their experience in the program and how they’ll use their graduate degree to advance as a writer.
What led you to the Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing program?
“Graduate school was always on my mind, especially in my senior year of undergrad,” Taija shares. Originally, she was hoping to take a break between college and graduate school, but a friend’s positive experience in graduate school changed her mind. “I had this friend my senior year who started Emerson’s Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing program and kept telling me how much I would love the program,” they add.
Taija attended the Washington State University for English with a concentration in Creative Writing. While they enjoyed college, they often felt that there was an emphasis on poetry and literary fiction, whereas Taija was more passionate about young adult and fantasy writing. After hearing about Emerson’s MFA from their friend, Taija started looking into the program. She attended admissions events for the program, and after asking some questions, she decided to apply.
“When they accepted my application, it was really a done deal. I knew this was the right program for me,” they say.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Taija is an online tutor, and they typically start their day by checking the tutoring queue and doing a few hours of work. After, they do homework or work on their MFA thesis manuscript. All Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing courses are online and asynchronous, so Taija is able to complete their work whenever it’s most convenient in their schedule. Once she finishes her school work, Taija typically runs errands or makes plans with friends. “I try to make sure I buy groceries and meal prep before each week,” she adds.
What is your thesis?
For the Popular Fiction Writing & Publishing program, all students write a novel or novel excerpt that is at least 100 pages for their thesis. The thesis can be within any genre and must be near-publishable quality.
Taija’s thesis is the beginning of a young adult fantasy novel titled Diviners by the Dead, which follows two magic students. One student is affluent, the other on a scholarship, but both are navigating Blackness in academia. Even as they grapple with discrimination, high academic pressures, and intergenerational trauma, the students are faced with a string of murders killing off their classmates one by one. When the duo works to uncover the root of these deaths, they come to find something larger and deadlier than they could have imagined. Taija’s thesis centers BIPOC, neurodivergent, and queer characters while exploring themes like intergenerational trauma, exploitation, and what it means to be Black in academia.
How do you like the online format of the Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing program?
“It was actually really easy to adjust to an online format,” Taija says. During the pandemic, all of their undergrad classes rapidly transitioned to online. After experiencing distanced learning throughout the pandemic, Taija felt comfortable enrolling in a fully online graduate program.
Taija has a few habits that help her stay organized with the online format. “We get all of our deadlines at the beginning of the semester, so I make sure to put all of my deadlines in my calendar.” Knowing what assignments and projects are due each week allows Taija to break up her work and plan what she’ll do each day.
They add that connecting with professors is convenient and accessible in the online program. Professors in the program are responsive via email and are always happy to meet with students for virtual office hours. “It’s nice that I don’t need to find time to make it to a professor’s office in-person,” they add. “I can just email them or meet on Zoom from home.”
Do you feel connected to your classmates in the program?
“Honestly, I thought I wouldn’t feel connected in the program because I struggle to initiate conversations, even though I love talking to people.” Despite this fear, Taija has made a number of friends in her program. “The professors encourage students to exchange contact information at the beginning of a class, and that helped me connect with people,” they add.
Taija keeps up with a number of classmates on social media and chats with them about writing and thesis work. Her favorite part about making friends in this program is how diverse people’s genre interests are. She has enjoyed meeting people who write in styles outside of YA and fantasy, which are Taija’s wheelhouse. “It’s nice talking to likeminded people who are doing the same thing but in different ways. Only talking to people who write what I write would be a bit limiting,” she explains.
What are your hopes for after graduation?
Taija would love to see their work on the New York Times bestseller list. Another dream is to have their books adapted for an animated show or movie. Taija notes that their classes in the Popular Fiction program have made them more vocal about their work, which will help them promote their work and reach these goals of becoming a successful writer. To keep up with Taija’s writing and thesis work, be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram!
In addition to her writing goals, Taija hopes to break into publishing by opening their own imprint or independent press. Learning about the publishing industry in her MFA classes made Taija more passionate about publishing. She explains, “My publishing classes showed me how the publishing industry makes it really difficult to get published, and I want to work to make the industry more accessible. My classes in publishing armed me with the tools to propel myself into publishing.”
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
“Don’t be scared to experiment.” Since starting their graduate program, Taija has started trying to write more gothic, horror, and mythology-inspired fiction. They say that this experimentation has helped them grow as a writer. “I wouldn’t have grown to be the writer that I am if I hadn’t broken out of my mold,” she adds.
“Also know that you’re a better writer than you think.” Taija explains that many students fear that their work will be torn apart at the graduate level, but she challenges students to be confident in themselves. They also say that students should not be afraid to show themselves through their work in graduate school. “This is the space to do that and be vulnerable.”
To keep up with Taija and their work, be sure to follow them on social media. For more information about the Popular Fiction program, schedule a call with an admissions counselor or read our blog about another Popular Fiction student’s experience in the publishing industry.