In the Education Life section of The New York Times they ran an article yesterday that dealt with M.F.A. programs. It was titled, Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A. I enjoy to write and I enjoy to read, so continuing my education in the field has always been something in the back of my mind. But, after my real world experiences the one thing I believe my generation (millennials) should be overly cautious of is whether the means (an M.F.A program) is the best way to the ends (a writing career)?
Here’s the truth as I see it. If you are a super intelligent, very diligent worker, your goal is to become a literary teacher/expert, and you may already possess a doctoral degree in some difficulty worded literary arena then an M.F.A in Creative Writing would be perfect and beneficial for you. First, you would likely get a free ride. You would have a decent shot at a tenured track job at some fancy liberal arts school. You would also likely ace the program. But, if you are a regular everyday person, who graduated college a few years ago and has some boring job you just aren’t happy with, an M.F.A program might sound tempting to you. Maybe it’s the golden ticket out of the rut you have been living in. Just because you love to write, have a slew of short stories you have written and saved on your hard drive, are an active blogger, or just have great ideas and story lines spewing out of your brain that does not mean you should go to an M.F.A program. Let’s think about your goals for a second. Are they to write? Are they to just keep on writing because it is something you love to do? I am going to speculate the answer is yes. I am also going to tell you to keep your job and keep on writing.
Here’s why. The path through any M.F.A program will be hard and academically challenging. Many of your ideas will be smashed, not to say that is not a good thing, but if it happens over and over again you will start to lose you self confidence for no reason. At this point, a regular individual who simply loves the act of writing is (on a regular basis) is having their ideas destroyed and picked apart. On top of that, they cannot match up intellectually or grammatically with the doctorate in Medieval Literature who sits to their left, nor the doctorate in Victorian Romantics who sits to their right. The professor, when reading papers by other classmates who are trained at a much higher level than the average writer, is going to scrutinize over your work harder than anyone else. By the end of the program (if you survive), you will be beaten and bloodied, your spirit will be tarnished. Oh, and you also owe between $30,000 and $72,000 for your degree. Think about it- just two years ago you had a job you weren’t too fond of, but you did not have these huge loans. You also felt like writing was the best thing in the world and now, well you probably are going to want to take a break from writing for a bit and vacation on a nice secluded island (but, you can’t afford it.) To top it all off, you aren’t going to get that “good” job you thought you were because you did not do as well as other students and you now have little confidence in your work, hurting your ability to sell yourself. The article suggests that success from an M.F.A. degree is going back to your career and doing some more writing, which is exactly what you were doing before. Really makes you want to send your application in pronto, right?
If you like to write, my recommendation is to keep writing. Do not go to get your M.F.A., at least not yet. I do think an M.F.A program has so many great advantages and can open doors left and right for the right person. Once you have built up enough confidence in your work, maybe do some self publishing first and gain a small (or possibly very large) fan base. Use that energy and positive support to write your next book, this time possibly your biggest hit yet. You may also get picked up by a large blog and write for them too. Gain your writing spirit and make that spirit so strong it cannot be broken, because people will always try. Then, maybe, go get your M.F.A. At that point you will not care about what your classmates and professors think. You will not care how “poorly” you are doing in your class, if you are trying your hardest. You will now have the opportunity to absorb and learn everything the program has to offer, instead of dwelling on the pity things. You will also have a much better chance of getting some form of scholarship with a developed writing background and post M.F.A. you have a fan base you will be able to share your fine toned work with. You won’t have to go searching for one, hoping that one day you will find it.
Education is the most important thing in life, but unnecessary education is very dangerous. Don’t make a decision based off a dream, make it based off of your own reality. Are you ready for the next step? If not, just keep writing. Write on.