Wednesday, July 27, 2011

License to Thrill

First! PMN turns two years old this month, mes auteurs, so please leave any and all presents in the comments. Be warned: I already own every Transformers action figure and Kurt Vonnegut novel ever produced.

(I kid. At least with regard to Transformers action figures.)

Now then, ladies and gentlebros, I'd like to revisit a topic of yore: the mfa. As I've mentioned before, there's no such thing as a license to write: while the mfa is useful as a qualification to teach creative writing at the postsecondary level, there is no academic prerequisite for writing commercially successful novels. None whatsoever.

However! If you're writing literary fiction, the mfa might not be a bad idea. First, it provides you with a community of writers who can support and provide invaluable feedback for your work; it allows you access to a network of writers, editors, and educators to which you would never have otherwise been privy; and it makes you comfortable with revising and reading your work aloud on a regular basis. I don't think the degree is necessary in any sense, and I think getting it out of boredom or as a result of the misguided belief that it will make you more attractive to agents or editors are tremendously poor choices. It does have its uses, though.

So! If you're thinking of pursuing an mfa at some point, take the following into consideration (in more or less the following order):

Location, location, location. There's no sense in spending one to three years in an area you dislike—or potentially even hate. As great as the programs in Iowa and Michigan may be, seriously ask yourself whether you'd want to spend that much time there.

Funding. I firmly believe that there is no reason whatsoever to go into debt for an art degree. So, if you're choosing between the slightly more prestigious school with the $100,000 price tag and the less well-known school that'll pay your way, go with the latter.

• Time commitment. Do you want to attend a less intensive studio program? An academic program that requires 40+ hours per week of preparation? A full-time program, a half-time program, a low-residency program? Keep in mind that you'll have to balance your personal and perhaps professional life with your academic existence as you earn your degree.

Reputation. How successful are the alumni of the programs you're considering? As crass as it sounds, do the names of your schools serve as social currency in literary circles? The better known your school, the more likely you are to participate in social circles that will benefit your writing career.

Faculty. This sounds like it would be a top priority, but in reality, faculty move from program to program on a fairly regular basis. The danger of selecting a program based on its faculty is that the poet or writer you most want to work with may be on sabbatical or may have left the institution entirely by the time you begin your studies. If a single individual is your primary criterion for attending a program, you may want to rethink your decision to enroll in said program.

So! Those are my current thoughts on the mfa. Responses, thoughts, corrections, questions, and tangents welcome in the comments!

5 comments:

  1. Personal opinion of former Midwestern wanderer...Iowa is actually very pretty and green and full of sky. Wonderful for a certain kind of at peace writing. Except during flood season.

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  2. Eric,

    Your evaluation is accurate. Good for you for telling it like it is. Can the MFA make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in Iowa?

    With respect,

    Daniel McNeet

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  3. Happy Blogaversary! *tosses confetti*
    My blog turned 2 this month, too. :D

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  4. Happy Bog B-Day! I did something a little different from an MFA. I took three years and worked part-time and worked on my writing, took classes, and joined critique groups. We saved a lot of money and I learned a ton. It was the best choice for me at the time.

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    ReplyDelete