Monday, August 25, 2014

The Perks of Being a Corporate Sellout

            “I might be dumber by the end of summer, but at least it’s a good resume builder.” Or that’s what I told my mom when I accepted an internship with a beauty magazine. Spending three months writing blurbs about makeup that are as much advertisements as they are “reviews” sounded about as stimulating as, well, spending three months writing blurbs about makeup. So imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying it. Yes, I was writing about beauty products, but it was still writing. And I like writing.
            The great thing about the beauty industry is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s completely frivolous, and the people inside the industry are just as aware of this as the people outside. My boss was educated, well-traveled and the first person to admit she never expected to wind up at a beauty magazine. She’s also one of the first people to admit: writing about beauty is fun. And I agree.
            I spent my days coming up with the cheesiest puns imaginable: “Inglot Cosmetics introduces a ‘scent-sational’ new fragrance line;” “Caffeine infused skincare, see what the buzz is all about;” “Worried about extra fat on your pooch? No, not your stomach, your dog.” (Did you know there’s liposuction for dogs now?! But don’t worry it’s purely for health reasons.)
            Aside from being fun, the perks didn’t suck. It was an unpaid internship, but there was a gym across the hall from me, an on site Starbucks where everything was free, a manicurist every other week (also free), and the occasional free beauty products. But corporate perks are never really free. Some part of your soul has to be sold. So what’s the trade off? What gets lost along the way?
            Artistic integrity. Coming from an MFA program where everyone seems to be aiming for different, where everyone wants to break through boundaries and do something surprising, and where I sometimes feel too mainstream (not that I’m complaining), writing about makeup is a big step in the opposite direction. It’s a world where facts sometimes go unpublished in favor of advertising revenue, and I know a lot of good writers who have moral qualms about that sort of thing. Luckily for me, I’ve never been one with an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation. And chai tea lattes have a way of soothing my conscience
            Sure, maybe there’s something to be said for standards, for artistic integrity, for locking yourself away in a remote cabin in the woods to write a great American novel that no one will read until after your dead. At which point, moody high schoolers will rent the movie and glance through the CliffNotes. But there’s also something to be said for a building full of people sipping Americanos and getting paid to put words on paper. There’s something to be said for paying off student loans and not spending the last week of every month eating ramen noodles. There’s something to be said for making your art into your living. So don’t be afraid to trade in ten-dollar words for two-bit puns. It’s still writing. And as for artistic integrity, that’s what weekends are for.   
Shari Lefler is an MFA student and recipient of the President’s Award at Florida Atlantic University. Her focus is on non-fiction, especially travel and family memoir. Since entering the program, she has served as a non-fiction editor for Coastlines Literary Magazine, and Vice President of Graduate Teaching Assistants for the English Graduate Student Society. She has also worked as an editorial intern for digital content at New Beauty Magazine. She is currently organizing an underground group of rebel grammarians to join her fight against overuse of the exclamation point. To become a soldier for the cause, draw a semi-colon on a piece of masking tape and leave it outside your nearest Barnes and Noble. She will find you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Welcome Back!

It's the start of a new semester - a time to review and renew your writing habits, goals, and progress toward your thesis. To that end, I thought I'd give you some programmatic information.

After 18 credit hours, you'll need to complete a Plan of Study. See me for help with this. Basically, the Plan of Study is your contract with the English Department and the Graduate College for the coursework that's required for the MFA. As such, it's an important form, and you'll need to stay current with it by filling out the Form 9 (Revision to Plan of Study) pretty much each subsequent semester.

If you're wondering what classes to take, check out our advising checklist and degree maps (for students with and without a GTA). Your degree is made up of 48 credit hours - 21 hours of Creative Writing Workshops, 18 hours of lit/theory classes, ENG 6009: Principles and Problems of Literary Study, and six thesis hours. It's recommended that you take ENG 6009: P&P as close to the beginning of your coursework as possible. Also, take workshops outside of your chosen genre! This will help to not only broaden your writing horizon, but will also enhance your chosen genre (I promise - there's a new energy you'll bring back after trying something new).

When you're ready to take thesis hours, come see me and discuss the process. Basically, you should email your prospective chair to set up an appointment. Don't ask your prospective chair during class or in the hallway - be formal, be polite, and take this request seriously. Your committee is made up of your chair and two other readers. Check out the faculty list for information on the professors' areas of study - consider choosing one reader from the non-creative writing faculty (they can bring a new perspective to your committee).

When you're getting ready to graduate, please see the degree completion page from the Graduate College. I recently sent an email around with Fall 2014 graduation deadlines - check it out, and if you're graduating this Fall, please be sure to set up an appointment with me as soon as possible.

We have some great readings lined up for the Fall, but I'd also love to be invited to readings you host (hint hint!). I'm planning a welcome back yoga class in the next week or so, so feel free to email me if you're interested in that. Don't forget to check out New Pages for information on journals and literary contests. Read Khristian Mecom's blog about publishing if you haven't yet.

I'm looking forward to a wonderful semester with all of you. My email is if you have any questions. Thanks!

MR Sheffield's work has been published or is forthcoming in Pank, Fiction Southeast, and Far Enough East - she's also your devoted English Advisor and an English instructor at FAU. Contact her at or (561) 297-2974.