I’ve been contemplating going for my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing. I’ve done the research and the opinions vary greatly whether the benefits out way the costs.
Some of my favorite authors don’t possess an MFA. So why do I feel the need for more education to pursue my writing career? This is a question I’ve been toying with for some time, it’s actually becoming quite a distraction.
Pros vs Cons
- Education is always valuable.
- Advanced degrees are respected.
- Certain professions require advanced degrees.
- An advanced degree may boost my self-confidence as a writer.
- The MFA program may be a great networking opportunity.
- Money. Will I see returns on my investment for this degree?
- Time. I could be using classroom time to continue writing my own novel.
- Will it truly make me a better writer? I can study great works of literature and poetry, but if that’s not my chosen genre will it change/improve the type of writer I am?
I read a lot of books on writing, again looking for that magic formula. (I think we know who stole it⚡️). In my quest, I recently picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She has a section called “schooling” in this lovely book, where she discusses the necessity, shall we say, of an advanced degree. Gilbert herself has a Bachelor’s degree, from there she felt it best to find her voice out among writers. She goes on to point out that “Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901: Not one of them had an MFA.”
When I worked in the professional world, few people asked me about my education or degree. Now when people ask me what I do and I say I’m a writer and book blogger, they ask 1). are you published and 2). do you have your MFA. I’m working on getting published, but I’m not sure the advanced degree is going to get me there any faster.
Can you teach someone to write better?
Format wise, sure. Grammar, punctuation, tense, let’s not even go there, I suck, I admit it. But that is why there are proofreaders and copy editors. I’m talking about creativity and insight. Can you learn creativity in a classroom? Can the halls of academia stifle one’s creativity? These are the questions that keep me from my writing, ironic isn’t it?
Am I writing this to talk myself out of an MFA? Maybe? What I’d really love is a writing partner, someone to bounce ideas and rough drafts around with. I’ve tried writing groups, and I can see their purpose, but I feel they need to be genre-specific. I write mainly Adult Fiction, Women’s Fiction, even some Children’s Books. Someone who reads a lot of fiction has examples to compare to when they critique my work and give me feedback. They know what some of the standards are in the publishing world because they’ve purchased it and read it.
Yet another great book I found, (another omen maybe?), is the diyMFA by Gabriela Pereira. The forward is written by author Jacquelyn Mitchard. She has an MFA, but reflects on her career and states that obtaining the MFA was for academic purposes, she wanted to teach writing. So, maybe self-study is enough. Sure I won’t have the degree to hang on the wall or put on a resume, but as a writer does it matter?
Writing, as with all art forms, is so personal.
There is a piece of you that goes into your art. I don’t want my writing to become too academic, too polished even. I love writing that is raw and heartfelt, with dialogue that feels natural, not contrived. I’m striving for that, so maybe I just keep plugging away day after day, reading and writing. And when someone asks what I do, I can honestly say, I’m a writer.
diyMFA by Gabriela Pereira, Writer’s Digest Books © 2016
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Riverhead Books ©2015