MFA or No MFA?

Every time I turn around, it seems, there’s this raging debate about MFA or no MFA. Someone at my critique group asked me about it. Since attending a major name workshop in NYC, he’d wondered if more school might be good for improvement. Hence, should he go for the MFA?

Short answer? No…and yes.

I know, not very helpful. The pros: if you’re in academia it will help you with job opportunities, gives you a space/time to think about and develop writing skills, spend time with like minded people and open you up to new networks and opportunities. The cons: if you’re already working toward establishing yourself in genre fiction it will cut into writing time and possibly make you a bit crazy with the homework load.

Okay, I hear some of you saying, great, but what about the cost? At anywhere from $20,000 and up, I totally agree that’s a concern. Honestly, I’ve got a form of financial aid. There are ways to underwrite some of the costs. (I still pay fees and books, which add up, too.) Scholarships and grants are out there but not easy to find.

Lest you think I hide in the ivory tower, I don’t. Before I embarked on my MFA in the fall of 2015, for the last two years or more I found critique groups and began attending. I’ve read books and articles to help me improve. I’ve listened to feedback and applied it. I’ve killed my darlings in manuscripts.

Here’s the thing: if you want to be a writer, it burns in you. It’s your purpose. You can’t stay away from it.

If you want to be an excellent writer, you’ll take the criticism and say thank you. You’ll listen and apply it when you hear consensus. Having said that, remember, we’re NOT our work. Despite the blood, sweat, tears and energy we pour into the act, the finished written document is not us. Get over that hurdle and critique gets easier.

The MFA may present some of the information in a more organized way than doing it as you go along, but not necessarily. I got a ton out of Taos Toolbox in two weeks. No one ever discussed the business side of writing during my undergraduate work. I’d say the MFA is not one size fits all. If you feel like you want/need the credential, I’d recommend getting someone else to pay for a good part of it whenever possible.

I do not consider myself a “literary” writer, but more commercial. And yet, there are some good takeaways in the courses I’ve had to date, so you may want to take a look at programs. In the end, to me, to MFA or not to MFA is a personal decision, driven by many factors. It is not a one size fits all decision to make. You must do what’s right for you and your writing journey.


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