To MFA or not to MFA

I have two friends now who are enrolled in low-residency MFA programs. They are both female and have both been out of college for a while now. A few years ago I considered going the MFA route. At the time, I was only beginning to take my writing seriously and had a vague idea that I needed the imprimatur in order to go forward. After some consultation with my workshop instructor, who has an MFA from UVA, I decided I probably wouldn’t get more out of it than the workshops I’d been taking. Soon after, some classmates and I formed a critique group that I’ve been with for several years now, and that carried me forward in the development of my craft to finishing my novel and sending out queries.

Over the past few years of learning about the publishing industry, and after reading the enlightening New Yorker article “Show or Tell: Should Creative Writing Be Taught?” I’ve come to realize that one of the main reasons for getting an MFA degree as a writer is for the connections. Study under a famous author and chances are that author will blurb your book or introduce you to his/her agent/editor. Meet other authors at conferences and maybe they will write recommendations for you to writers’ colonies, etc. Yes, you need talent to have your book accepted for publication, but it doesn’t hurt to have someone in your corner to introduce you to people who otherwise might not have the time to seriously consider your query.

I swore that I would never go back to school once I got out, and I’ve mostly kept that promise, except for writing workshops and a community college German class. I don’t particularly want to, but from time to time I consider whether it might make sense. When I asked one of my friends why she was enrolling in her MFA program, her response was that she wanted a mentor. She’s already written a novel and sent queries to a few agents and not been accepted. She wants someone to help her hone the novel and find an agent. Seems to me getting an MFA might be an expensive way to get a book published. I’ll be interested to see if it’s effective for her. In the meantime I’m sticking to sending out queries and seeing what happens, working on my second novel and sending short stories out to journals and contests. I’m probably just at the beginning of this part of the journey.

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