The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

thoughts about MFAs in writing

Okay, this semester is winding up, and I have finally formed an opinion about MFAs in writing.

Reasons not to get an MFA in writing:

1. Money
2. It's time-consuming
3. It's hard work

Reasons to get an MFA in writing:

1. You can compress about 10 years worth of learning how to write into 2.
2. You don't have to feel alone while you're doing it.
3. You get forcible, out-of-your-comfort-zone exposure to a broad variety of writing styles, techniques, mindsets, and processes.
4. You can interact intensively in a vibrant community of working, thinking writers.
5. You can come away with a big box of writer's tools to help you get over being stuck.

I keep using the word "can," because these are things that are open to you if you come in with a hunger to learn and the drive to work at it. And it may depend on the program, I don't know--all I know is the one I've seen from the inside. Anyway, it looks to me like if you come in with some talent and a belief that this is similar to all those effortless A's you got back in high school or college, then you're screwed. In that case, it looks to me like you should just save your money and your time.

To me (speaking only for myself, not for any programs or for any other advisors) if you're thinking about getting a MFA:

1. You'd better bloody well be serious about writing.
2. You'd better be ready to work your butt off.
3. You'd better be willing to rip your guts out, lay them on a platter, and dissect them.

Is it worth the money? Nothing about writing is worth the money.*

But all that aside, I guess it depends on who you work with and what your goal is. I don't know about other programs, or even other advisors, but having come up through the trenches myself, I always have the publishing world at the back of my mind, and to me (again, speaking only for myself) that's the minimum standard for a MFA in writing. To my mind, by the time you're out of the program, you should be producing writing of a standard that, at the very least, is comparable to what's being currently being accepted for publication. Whether your idea is currently marketable isn't my lookout, but the quality of your actual writing is.

And of course, this is all colored by my own mindset, which is impatient, intense, non-academic, fairly non-nurturing, and extremely focused on what's on the page.

*I would say that the only reason to get into writing is if you can't live without writing. But it was recently pointed out to me that some writers are able to keep themselves going through all the stress and negative internal voices by feeling the opposite way--that they can live without writing, so it's not that important, and if it's stressful they're free to walk away for a while. For me, this is an alien concept and I'm still suspicious of it and haven't quite sorted out what I think about it yet.

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