MFA or No MFA? That is the Question.

If you’re an aspiring writer and you’ve clicked on this blog, you’re probably debating about getting a MFA. And after the mountain of online articles blurring in your closing eyes, you’ve decided…nothing. “Great balls of fire!” Why can’t anyone give a straight answer!

I’ll tell you why – because they’re vouching for what they think – MFA or no MFA. But unless they’ve agreed to pay your tuition, or hunt you down until you’ve met your weekly word count, their opinions don’t matter. Your’s does, though…so what do you do?

mfaStop wasting your time reading articles debating about this issue! At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if John Smith believes you’ll never publish without a MFA and Hilary Clankinbeard thinks burning money on a MFA is baloney. Who cares what they think – they’re not you! And only you understand your professional, social, and financial situation. Only you can decide if a MFA’s benefits will outweigh its costs.

Enter, the solution. The MFA Yes and No checklist, a list of four big reasons you should or shouldn’t get a MFA.

Now on to the list!

First and foremost, I want to express that I am NOT going to give you a list of boring reasons as to why I decided not to get a MFA. This article isn’t about me. It’s about YOU – another aspiring writer out there just itching to learn more about writing! And it’s not important that you hear why I or any other writer did or did not get a MFA. It only matters your situation and what you think will make you a stronger writer. The costs and benefits weigh equally for most debaters, but only you know your work and home situation. Only your gut can tip the scale. 

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TO GET A MFA OR NOT TO GET A MFA? That is the question…

YES! No!
1.I want to write, but I’m not disciplined. I’m one of those people who uses my job, my family, my friends, or my exhaustion to keep me from gluing my butt in my seat and typing until I finish. Having assignments and deadlines leaves me no option but to research and write – so following a curriculum that forces me to complete assignments by a deadline will teach me good habits and force me to write, despite my excuses.

 

Note of Caution: School eventually does come to an end, and one day you will have to learn to discipline yourself and write outside the classroom. The real work must and always be done at home – driven by you and you alone. But, if getting a MFA will jump-start good writing habits, go for it!

1. I can’t afford it. Probably the number one reason writers stray from getting a MFA. After reading about how amazing the program sounds, you land on the admission cost and – with a knife in your heart – realize there’s no way in hell-abaloo you can afford it (now). Most programs range around $35,000-$40,000 – not including room and board or other expenses. Yup, college admission continues to increase for Master’s programs too. And it stinks like a bag of flaming crap on your doorstep, but, “there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it”…or is there! If you need more instruction but can’t afford a MFA – YOU CAN STILL LEARN! Half (or more) of being a writer (that succeeds) is continuing to educate yourself. Ever considered online programs from credible (AND AMAZING!) resources like Writer’s Digest University? If not, start enrolling in writing workshops like these – they’re more affordable than the traditional classroom setting (an online!) – as long as you’re someone who has enough drive to get your work done on your own 🙂
2. I don’t know what to research. You’re on Twitter and Facebook and you follow blogs, and you’ve explored the tips and tricks on the web…but something still feels like it’s missing. You’d like hands-on guidance from a mentor who can push you (and know your story personally) in the right direction, pointing you to people and works that might give you answers to flaws in your novel. Heck, your instructors do want you to complete your thesis – which is a bit different from an agency reading 500 manuscripts out a slush pile – weekly! 2. I have a job. So you can’t go to school full-time – or you could, but you might drown in a black hole by the time you’re done. Yes, it’ true that having a MFA does not guarantee you get published. You might learn skills. You might meet agents. But you don’t get an agent, an editor, or a publisher because you have a degree. Representation and publishing are a whole different animal. Even if you have a MFA, it’s up to you to sell your book – with or without an agent. You need to build your author platform. You need to seek representation. You need to publish it. Just don’t throw your debut novel in the corner because you get rejected one, two, or one-thousand times. If you want your novel to have a life, it’s up to you to create and promote it. Writing the book itself is its own precious, time-consuming, heart-throbbing job. Writers write because it is their vocation – they can’t imagine doing anything else. So even if you can’t complete a MFA because you have a full-time job – guess what, you can still get your book published. If you’re willing to put in the work.
3. I don’t know any writers and I’d like to meet agents, publishers, and editors. One great advantage of getting a MFA is your opportunity to learn from and work with published authors. And if your instructor isn’t published (which is practically unheard of), it’s more than likely you will attend presentations by guest speakers who…well, they’ve been invited for a reason! If you’re not an outgoing person, a MFA program places you in a more personal, comfortable position to speak to professionals in the industry. It can be scary diving right into the heat of a competitive, fast-paced environment like publishing if you’re farouche – and you’d find comfort writing side by side with supportive yet constructive readers. Maybe the stars will align (thanks to your research!), and you even hit it off with a guest agent or editor. Happily Ever After (and then the real work begins!)

 

Note: Some programs like Emerson College build a publishing component into the curriculum. If you’re interested in publishing – there are degrees for that, too!

3. I’d rather spend my time writing (my genre!) than analyzing. Yes, you will write until your fingers bleed before they hand you your MFA, but it requires a lot of structured, literary-focused work. If you’re writing for genre fiction like sci-fi or fantasy (among many others), then the MFA might not be for you. Not that some programs like Spalding University don’t offer all genre fiction choices…but they’re not the norm, and they’re not the main focus even if they’re offered. Focusing on fiction can be tricky in a MFA program – and if courses with a literary core is not what you want, well, I’d encourage you to check out alternative online courses, like Writer’s Digest University (again, they are amazing!!!!). Or, maybe you don’t have the money for a course (or you’re more advanced than what the course offers) but still want to learn from a published author/editor/agent…try purchasing an OnDemand Webinar instead. You might learn exactly what you hope to hear – faster!
4. You practice you’re writing…but not consistently. If you’re one of those people that writes – not a writer (because writers, write!), you might benefit from a structured environment – needing someone to tell you to complete “x” number of pages with “x” number of words by Friday. Again, you can’t let poor excuses and distractions – writer’s block, no time, the list goes on and on – get in your way…MFA or no MFA. But, if paying pockets-full-of money for that MFA motivates your fingers on the keyboard or grows your interest to research, do it. 4. I have a family.  And I can’t just pick up and move them because I want to attend a program in a different state. Why can’t there be more programs that are online! They’re out there, but they might involve some airfare on occasion. And again, you have to consider if a MFA would work for YOUR family. Each one is different and may or may not need more attention. But a word of caution for those out there who use “busy schedules” as their excuse. I said it earlier and I’ll say it again – writer’s write. When they’re busy. When they’re hungry. And when they’re tired. Learn a routine that works, and stick to it. But you will never get anything published if you can’t discipline yourself to write every.single.day. Besides, you’ll feel empty if you cheat on your books. Don’t deprive your characters from your affection! You wouldn’t deprive your kids!

Okay. But I still don’t know what to do. What now??

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Watch this funny YouTube video to break the tension while you decide!  By YouTube Channel – Cole and MarmaladeMake a Decision – And have your mind blown, too!

Ask yourself – Do I need a MFA (I almost forgot! If your intent is teaching college, then YES, you probably do need a MFA – universities and colleges tend to hire instructors with a MFA or published experience)? And if I do, is this the right time for me and my family? And, if not, what can I do to make sure I continue to LEARN how to write better, and how to sell my book?

If it’s not good enough to be a “good” writer – and it’s perfectly possible for a tirelessly persistent and resilient writer to succeed – focus your energy on what will make you more persistent and resilient. What will teach you more about writing, and what will boost your desire to learn on your own – MFA or no MFA? Only you can answer that.  

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