Self-education vs. MFA

I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately, and came across an e-book that was briefly available for free through the Kindle store.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing was one of those titles I downloaded because the price was right ($0 is hard to say no to), but figured I’d never actually open.

Now that I have, I’m glad I did.

There are a couple of reasons, really. The chapter on fiction writing has, thus far, been helpful. The information is broad rather than specific, but that’s because the answer in writing is general “it depends” and the book freely admits to that fact. Still, the information presented has allowed me to take a closer look at the structural elements of my work and has given me a new lens to see dialog and point of view.

But it’s the introduction that really got me thinking. The early portion of this book is dedicated to telling you why, if you’ve ever considered getting an MFA in writing, you’re probably better off saving the cost of tuition.  Don’t get me wrong, the book doesn’t dismiss the benefits of an MFA. It simply acknowledges that those letters are pretty meaningless for most people writing fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, or screenplays for money. Unless you’re intending to teach, chances are good your actual degree won’t get you much, and in a lot of programs, it might cost you a great deal more than time and money.

That said, as a self-taught writer, the notion of attending formal, structured classes and workshops is appealing. It’s difficult, sometimes, to find that perfect early reader. It can be very difficult to connect with another writer who is interested in what you write, who has the time to actually participate in your process, and who understands the difference between workshopping and editing. Particularly if you happen to write in a genre and with topics that are only approachable to particular audiences.  I’ve been lucky to find a number of readers who have benefited my work over the years, but never anything as intensive as a workshop environment.

I fully believe that my writing has grown over the years in ways it never would have if I’d gone the university route, but I miss having those connections, those other voices to inform and temper my own creative endeavors.

Did you choose a self-taught or more formal path through the writing process? What factors led to your decision?

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1 Response to Self-education vs. MFA

  1. tambo says:

    I am almost entirely self taught. Way back when I was young – 20, 21? Somewhere around there – I took a creative writing class at the community college with some friends. There were about 15 students, give or take, and I found the class to be a total waste of my time. A lot of the problem was the teacher – she was an erratic and disorganized instructor at best – but if you weren’t a screenplay writer (I write novel length fiction), she was simply dismissive. My friend who wrote screenplays LOVED the class, but other than spending part of every class listening to other students read their work (everything from essays, poems, short fiction, even haiku), the class taught me nothing. I already instinctively understood structure, pacing, and theme. I could spell. Could craft a working sentence. I could tell a freaking story.

    What helped me, frankly, was writing. Alone. For years. And reading a LOT. I’m still learning, but having met a few MFA writers… Their stuff may be very pretty and evocative, but all of the honesty has been schooled out of it. I’d rather be honest than pretty.

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