I. Love. Learning. I loved college, too, and since my husband and I only live about 20 minutes from our alma mater, once or twice a year we head down there to
torture ourselves reminisce.
We’ve only been out of school for a few years, so most of campus looks basically the same. But every time we go there, every flier, every display at the library, every student reminds us that the same vibrant, interesting, exciting life is continuing there without us (never mind that it was also exhausting, grueling, and mentally strenuous. Nostalgia.). It seems so easy to step back into that life and learn and grow again. Granted, it won’t be quite the same the second time around, but if I had my druthers, I’d go get a grad degree (somewhere, not necessarily my alma mater).
But . . . in what? Most of the areas I’m interested in pretty much lead only to research or academic career paths (both of which can be fiercely competitive in these fields). And then there’s writing. The best I could get locally was an MFA with an hour commute (each way) or an MA with a vaguely creative emphasis—but last week I found out my alma mater added an MFA program last fall.
So now the question is—do I want it? Yes, of course—and no, of course not.
From what I understand (as I was told by professors), nearly all MFA programs create a certain type of writer—a literary one. Though I would like to style myself as a literary writer, right now my passions lie in genre fiction, and rare is the program where genre fiction (from romance and mystery to YA to scifi) is not at least stigmatized, if not denigrated. And leaving aside the fact that literary fiction is difficult to write and harder to sell, by no means does an MFA guarantee publication—or even publishable writing.
At its heart, any program is only as good as your instructors—and if it’s a workshop setting (which much of the critiquing is in most MFA programs), your classmates are your instructors. While I’m sure that only the best applicants are accepted to the program, that doesn’t automatically make their advice to other writers good (especially if you’re writing genre fiction and no one else is). And though it would be great to get that amount of feedback—I’m not sure my ego can handle two to three years of criticism (even if it is intended to make you better). Finally, it certainly sounds like literary agents are only half-joking when they say that they’ll “try to overlook” an MFA listed as a writing credit.
But still . . . I want those three little letters.
What do you think? Does an MFA appeal to you? Why or why not?
Update: I really like what Eric of Pimp My Novel (he works in the sales department of a large publisher) had to say about MFAs:
So, basically, my view is: if you’re doing literary work, you think you might want to teach college, and you don’t already have a decent job, go for the MFA. Otherwise, you might want to think twice. No one needs a license to be an author, and if you’re considering pursuing the degree purely for some perceived recognition or sense of legitimacy as a writer, you might want to find a new line of work.