Which is the write way to go?


Every few months I have this conversation with myself:

Self: When are you going to get a real job? You know longer have a baby at home–she’s starting Kindergarten in 2 years. You haven’t worked at a “real” job for 7 years. When are you going to get out and make something of yourself.

Other Self: But I’ve written 2 picture books! I wrote a 100-page proposal with my writing partner for an anthology and we got an agent. (Didn’t sell the book, but WE GOT AN AGENT.) And I’ve gotten essays published and written a novel and I’m actively involved in the Atlanta Writers Club…and…wait a minute, what was the question?

Self: You need to bring in an income. Get yourself out there. Develop a professional network.

Other Self: But I’m on Facebook. (winces)

This cyclical conversation gets me nowhere, except to an internal debate about whether I should apply for an MFA program in Creative Writing, i.e., whether I should go back to get a degree in something I won’t find a job in. Didn’t I recently attempt to dissuade my young relative from going to law school because there are no jobs? Then why on earth would I go back for an M.F.A.?

I’ve been following a few MFA blogs recently, and read this article on the Huff Post. Here’s a quote:

The MFA is, at base, a non-professional, largely-unmarketable art-school degree that can’t get anyone a full-time teaching job (at least not in the absence of significant in-genre publications) and is not designed to “network” graduates into magazine or book publications. The myth that poets and writers attend MFA programs to “professionalize” themselves — to get “credentialed” — has been proven false.

If there was a fully funded MFA program nearby, by all means, I would apply for an MFA. No question. (Many residential programs are mostly or fully funded for their accepted students.) But because I need to apply to a non-residential MFA program (where I’d complete the degree mostly from home), I’d be footing the entire bill (around $35,000 for 2 years) myself. And because there are either no jobs or only part-time poorly paid jobs available, it would probably take me for the rest of my life to earn as much as my tuition cost.

The very obvious answer is– I shouldn’t bother.

But then why do I keep thinking about it? Any writers out there also weighing the pros and cons of an MFA. Any MFA grads have any advice for me?

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10 thoughts on “Which is the write way to go?

  1. Oooh, would love to know what you finally decide, Emily. I need to grow as a writer, too, and the community college/ local university offerings are lacking.

  2. Well, I’ll just tell you from my point of view – I have struggled with this question myself over the past few years. I work as a freelance graphic designer (as you know), but I did not get my college degree in graphic design. I think at first, I thought I needed to get the MFA to prove that I was a graphic designer (see! I have a piece of paper that says so!). Like you, I already have two degrees, and maybe it’s frivolous to be seeking a third. Now, I realize that I don’t need the MFA to consider myself a REAL graphic designer. My work speaks for itself. That being said, if I had the money and opportunity, I would do it, because I like going to school and I think it would be a good opportunity to explore my work. As a teacher, I think that education is ALWAYS a good choice, no matter what arena it is done in.
    P.S. “Real” jobs are overrated. It’s not like if you got a job then B. is going to work less, is it? I mean, someone needs to hold down the fort, right? Throw that guilt right out the window!

  3. Wow, Lauren. I had no idea you ever thought about getting an MFA! You seem to have gotten enough work as a graphic designer, though. That’s not the case for me as a writer. If I had more work, I probably wouldn’t get an MFA. Or if my anthology had gotten picked up, I doubt I’d be considering another degree (at least not right now…maybe later on).

  4. Anjali, I have considered the same low-residency MFA scenario–not because I want it to help me get a better job, but because I think it would push me as a writer and help me grow significantly. Also, in regards to that quote, I think “significant in-genre publications” ARE often a result of the growth many writers achieve through MFA programs, you know? But the money is a serious sticking point–I could get some assistance through my school, but only in a very limited way.

  5. Jackie,

    Once your husband is a lawyer, could you take a couple years off to do the program at Johns Hopkins? I’ve heard it’s fully funded!!! I live nowhere near a residential program that gets decent funding!

  6. First I think you need to decide if you will even like teaching how to write. If you do, then you need to get an MFA. I think though that part of your objective is learn to be a better writer and in that case you should apply for MFAs– as for the debt accrued– it comes down to whether you can afford it or not…which I think you will be able to to 🙂
    Apply– and once you get in you can decide then what exactly you want to do. But apply. You’ve been talking about this way to long to not to.

  7. I left an MFA program many years ago. It was highly ranked and there were some truly talented people in it. The talented people went on to get jobs teaching writing at not so great schools. And they were *really* talented. The MFA is like the Ph.D. in that there are more graduates than jobs, and it’s not good at preparing you for jobs outside of academe. Nowhere was there discussion of agents, and preparing manuscripts to send off to real publishing houses. We submitted to literary magazines.

    Taking writing classes can certainly hone your craft and get good feedback. That’s what I’d encourage you to do.

  8. You’re right, Laura. MFA programs have exploded over the past decade. There are way too many graduates and too few jobs. In addition, I wouldn’t relocate for a job– our lives are too good here. I’d likely be in fierce competition for a community college job that I probably wouldn’t even get.

    Unfortunately, the writing classes offered here are either subpar or too far of a commuting distance away. I’m still going to try one more place. But I’ve found many of the continuing education classes are taught by people with very little publication experience, for people who have literally just started writing.

  9. Oh, and I do take every workshop/class offered through the Atlanta Writers Club. Unfortunately, at this point I think I need a little more to really improve my writing.

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