Guest contributor: Kerry Headley

After the MFA? Another Great Writing Day

categories: Cocktail Hour


Kerry Headley


My ceremonial hood and gown were still draped over a chair in the living room when I posted this on Facebook: Oh my God. Reading for pleasure. Post-MFA bliss. And I was in a state of bliss. After three years of reading, writing, and rereading and rewriting, I earned my MFA in creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. If I wasn’t reading, writing, revising, or thinking about my own work or the work of my classmates, I was doing all of the above in regard to the students I taught. Grad school flew by faster than I can believe. And now I have time to read all the books I bought and never opened. I also have time to sleep in and free-fall into the Internet rabbit hole to pursue weird true crime links and watch every cute cat video. (Don’t judge me. I just told you I worked my butt off for three years.)

It’s been just a couple weeks since graduation. I’ve dusted, mopped, and scraped the bits of dried cat food from my kitchen floor. I’ve made fudge with coconut milk and tried a recipe for vegan sesame peanut noodles. I’ve taken walks by the Cape Fear River and sat on my porch with my upstairs neighbor. These things have grounded me so that I might hear the answer to the question: What’s next?

With Clyde Edgerton

A few days ago, I started revising the essay collection that was my thesis—an assortment of stories based on my disparate employment experiences. Initially, my plan was to look over one of the pieces so I could submit it to a contest. Once I began, however, I realized how much better the piece could be. How un-ready it actually was. So I dove into it, cutting paragraphs I couldn’t have imagined cutting a few months ago. I made notes to myself. Notes like: What if you actually told the truth here instead of making a joke? Pretty quickly, I gave up on submitting to the contest, but I didn’t care. I was on the right track and I knew it.

I hadn’t expected to feel so ready to revise so soon.

With Philip Gerard

I still haven’t listened to the recording I made of my thesis defense. (Shout out to Dave a.k.a. David Gessner, thesis reader extraordinaire.) I haven’t read all of the notes from my committee of readers. I haven’t done this because I don’t yet need to. What I need to know right now never left my head. But there’s something else that’s maybe more important than anything—something I couldn’t have seen until I’d finished all the required courses, turned in the final draft of my thesis, and shaken the hand of my thesis director for the last time as a student: I trust my instincts.

I couldn’t perceive this as it was happening. I was adjusting to living in the South and learning to handle mouse-sized cockroaches. (Get cats.) I was getting to know my classmates and the students I taught, trying to keep up with all the work. I attended every reading I

With David Gessner

could. I studied with visiting writers. I developed a thicker skin as well as a receptivity to the potentially helpful criticism I received in workshop. I slogged my way through a three-year to-do list, which kept me too busy to notice how much I was learning, how much about writing I had internalized.

Graduating has not been at all anticlimactic. My plan is to keep writing and reading. Hopefully, I’ll be able to teach, too. I’d also like to convince the student loan people to barter with me. I will call it the Pans of Fudge Loan Forgiveness Program. (I’ll keep you posted.) In the meantime, it’s both hurricane and cockroach season in the South. I have to sprinkle boric acid on my baseboards and make sure I have batteries for my flashlight. Then I’ll get back to my book. In other words, it’s another great day in the writing life.

Congratulations to the MFA classes of 2013!  Let us hear how it’s looking to you.

[Kerry Headley is a writer living in Wilmington, North Carolina whose resume includes forklift operation, massage therapy, math book editing, and many other unrelated jobs. She’s available to live tweet court cases and teach writing. She plans to blog more frequently at You can follow her on Twitter:]


  1. Dave writes:

    This is awesome Kerry. I’m going to post it right now on CRWAlum, a group you are now offically a member of.

  2. Chris Guppy writes:

    SO good, and so true. It’s like the old Buddhist mantra: Chop wood, carry water. Before enlightenment, what do you do? Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, what do you do? Chop wood, carry water.

    Before graduation, what do you do? You read and write. A lot. After graduation, what do you do? The same.

    By the way, I’m reading that thesis. And Kerry is a badass. Just sayin’.

    • Kerry Headley writes:

      Thanks, Chris. Thank you for saying the “Chop wood, carry water thing” because I was thinking that. I didn’t want to be a total hippie though, so instead I infused the post with the essence of “Chop wood, carry water” because, you know, that’s not hippie-ish at all.

  3. Great piece, Miss Kerry. Thanks to Wilmington, you are now and forever Miss Kerry; so there’s that to look forward to, too.

    • Kerry Headley writes:

      One of my grandmothers called me Miss Kerry. In fact, she does so in my thesis. I will respond to Miss Kerry. Ms. Headley if you’re nasty.