After reading this post on Galley Cat regarding alternatives to getting a Creative Writing MFA, I started thinking. I just finished my MFA in January and for me the decision to pursue the degree was a good one. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right move for every writer. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing or education, so I’m a little tired of the debate over whether or not MFA programs are worth it.
For some writers, an MFA program is exactly right.
I graduated with a group of amazingly talented people from all over the world. We went to Lesley University and the program was low-residency (sidenote: low-residency does not mean less work, less cost, or that the program is easier. We were expected to spend at least 25 hours weekly on our work, which was very realistic and not at all a simple task. I’m not sure if the Galley Cat list meant to imply that a low-res program is an alternative to an MFA, because… it’s still an MFA.)
Anyway– the group I graduated with was made up of writers who got something meaningful out of this program and who needed the MFA at that point in their writing life. Not a single graduate complained that it was a waste of 2 years or that they could have gotten this education from a book or website. In fact, we were all wishing we could have just one or two more semesters in the program because every residency presented us with new tools for our writing arsenals.
That’s why I’m tired of hearing people debate whether or not an MFA is a good idea. My writing is so much stronger now because I had the chance to study closely with some very accomplished writers. Yes, reading is important if you want to write. But so is discussion, workshopping, feedback. You need eyes to tell you what works and what doesn’t work. If that’s all you need and you can get it in a writing group, power to you.
If you feel like you need more, like you’re hungry for all the knowledge you can get your hands on, maybe you’re in the right place for an MFA.
They’re not cheap, but that’s because it’s an education. School isn’t cheap. If an MFA is the type of education you want next in your life, go get that degree.
If you think it’s a waste of time, don’t go get that degree.
An MFA won’t guarantee that you’ll publish anything or become well-known or rich. It does, however, give you the opportunity to dig into your writing, get feedback, expand your mind a bit, and make connections that you otherwise would have missed out on. Not everyone who gets an MFA does it because they want to be a famous writer. I think nearly every person who writes understands that it’s a tough field, that there are no sure bets, and that you have to work your ass off no matter what your writing goals are.
But I’m more inspired to work my ass off after getting my MFA because I have the resources and tools now to work my ass off in the most effective way possible. I know how to revise, edit, find the pulse of a story and redirect a plot when it strays from the right course. I also learned how to create and teach a college-level seminar, and how to give a public reading without puking.
I would have lived without the MFA, but I’m happier to have it. My friends, mentors and experiences from the 2-year program are shaping who I am as a writer now– a writer who is has her act together and knows what she wants from her writing life.
And I feel damn lucky to be able to say that.