My first jobtalk is with writer Jessica Rosevear. Whatever type of writer you’re thinking of becoming – short story, novel, mystery, nonfiction, poetry – this interview will give you an idea of what it means to be a writer.
M.F.A. The New School, 2010
Ed.M. Rutgers, 2007
B.A. Rutgers, 2005
How did you get involved in writing?
I’ve always kept journals and been interested in writing. It’s just always been part of me.
How has getting an MFA helped you?
In my experience, the MFA introduces you to a community of like-minded people with whom you can make connections and from whom you can learn. I think the value of the MFA program, though, is in the “whole” rather in the sum of its parts. As an alumna of the New School, I can attend many writing events for free or at a reduced cost. I just attended a 2-day writing conference for $25 (as opposed to $350), where I made connections with and learned from many industry professionals. However, I do think it’s possible to cobble together your own “MFA experience” through individual classes, making your own writing group, and being an avid reader.
Does having an MFA make a difference in the publishing world?
Yes and no. I once heard an agent say she likes when a writer has worked with specific writers/teachers. Your query letter might get a second glance if you say you’re an MFA grad, but if your novel isn’t good or exciting, it won’t make a difference if you have an MFA. You might be qualified for other writing jobs with an MFA, though. I have a friend who was Writer’s Digest’s “MFA Confidential” blogger for a year when she was in her second year of the program. You’re not guaranteed success with or without an MFA.
How do you support yourself financially?
I’m a high school English teacher.
What would it take for you to be able to support yourself by writing?
It depends on the person. Some successful authors have full time jobs and write on nights and weekends. David Levithan is a great example of this – he’s published many books and is a full time editor at Scholastic. Other authors support themselves with book money as well an extra job like freelance writing, teaching, or book doctoring/editing. I think you have to be a writer on the level of Jodi Picoult in order to support yourself exclusively through your novels.
To date, what have you written?
I’ve written two book length manuscripts. The first was my MFA fiction thesis, which I shopped around for several months before declaring it dead. My new manuscript is a young adult novel, and I am in the process of looking for an agent. I’ve also written for both print and web publications. I blog regularly at www.JessicaRosevear.com. In my “unfinished/unpublished” drawer I have countless poems, short stories, personal essays, and novel openings.
You say your first book is dead. When did you decide this?
I don’t think there was one point in particular when I gave up on the first book. For every agent rejection I got, I’d query somewhere else. Since I was done with that book, I started writing my next idea. I think I got wrapped up in starting my new book while waiting to hear back from agents, and after a while, my new book was underway and I started seeing how it was stronger than the first manuscript. So I decided to focus my energies on that. If you’re done with a project and at the querying stage, I think it’s good to also start your next project so you can keep the gears going.
What have you published?
I’ve published nonfiction for both print and web publications. I’ve published my fiction in college newspapers and on the web.
Talk about the process of getting published.
Start the agent hunt only once you’ve gone through several drafts of your manuscript, and you know it’s in tip-top shape. Networking at conferences, reading about featured agents in magazines like Writer’s Digest, and researching agents that represent similar books to yours are all good ways to find a match. Your agent then takes the lead with selling your book to an editor at a publishing house.
How do you make time to write?
I write a ton in the summer; for the past few years, I’ve drafted entire manuscripts over the course of July and August. When I had shorter deadlines for magazine articles I was writing, I’d work on them at night after work. It’s good to have a cheerleader, too. For example, if you know a friend or significant other is excited to read your finished product it can motivate you to sit down at the laptop and work at the end of a long day instead of just flipping on the TV and shutting off your brain! Being efficient with your time and balancing work and writing is essential.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks s/he wants to be a writer?
I’d say: go for it! Write the stuff you love to read. Take a class. Lose your ego and be open to feedback. Try to find a way to make your day job inspire your writing.
Would anything ever make you give up on getting published?
I doubt it. I used to be really set on publishing a book before a certain age, but after my first book went nowhere, I realized that I actually have all the time in the world.
Who shouldn’t try to become a full time writer?
I wouldn’t discourage anyone from writing, but I wouldn’t recommend pursuing publishing if you are utterly unwilling to reflect on, read, or listen to the feedback of others. Also, if you’re unable to separate writing rejection from your self-worth, publishing probably isn’t for you. I actually recommend reading Tanya Egan Gibson’s How To Buy a Love of Reading to get an idea of how being too “precious” about your work is a bad idea. Also, I recommend being passionate about other things in addition to writing, because you have to be able to write ABOUT something.