It seems like “Do I need an MFA to be a writer?” is a question that gets debated in the Twittersphere on a regular basis. Plenty of people point out the benefits—learning more about the craft of writing, reading outside your normal scope, and creating a community with your fellow students among others. There are lots of points on the other side too, though—expense, how it doesn’t necessarily prepare you to publish, more expense, narrow genre restrictions, and oh yeah, expense!
I went into my MFA program having already been publishing professionally for over a decade. So why bother with the MFA?
Partly it was because I liked the look of the program—low-residency, a good focus on exploring genres I actually enjoyed reading, in-person meetings twice a year to help build community—and partly, I wanted an educational experience I’d actually enjoy for once. I had a new baby, I was working from home, and for the first time in a long time I had the bandwidth to explore a subject I was truly interested in, rather than pursuing classes relevant to my previous career. So I thought, “Why not?” and applied, and subsequently began my MFA that summer.
Was it as good as I’d hoped it would be? I got lucky in a lot of respects, because when the pandemic really settled in, my schooling wasn’t dramatically impacted. I was already learning at a distance, and it was simple to extend that through what would have been our in-person residencies. I read a lot of interesting stories by fantastic authors I might never have learned about otherwise, got some valuable feedback on my own work, and wrote a book in a genre I’d never tried before and probably wouldn’t have even considered without the right push from my mentors. All yay!
Do I feel more confident heading back out into the publishing world now? Not thanks to the MFA, to be honest. I get way more from my professional connections in that regard than I did from school. But I do have new work to query, and new friends to cheer me on and for me to cheerlead for. Also, having an MFA does make a different to some of my freelance editing contacts, which is helpful on a professional level.
Overall, I’m glad I did it. Of course, YMMV, but for me the community-building was key to making it worth my while, and was something emphasized by my program. If you’re new to writing, as a confidence builder, the MFA could be a truly great experience. Do your research on different programs, though, and most of all make sure you’re willing to take on the debt. Two years of writing fun will fly by, but tens of thousands of dollars in loans can last forever!
(That’s a joke. It’s almost a joke. It’s mostly a joke.)