2. Reason #2 not to get an MFA: Perspective
I don’t know about you, but I would never tell a friend that I thought her work was crap. Writing is personal and it hurts to hear that. There are enough people in all stages of the writing process that will tell you that your work is crap, your friends are supposed to bolster your confidence. But how many times have you torn apart a book or movie written by someone you didn’t know? It’s easier to be brutally honest with strangers.
Graduate school starts out as a meeting of a group of strangers, but eventually you develop relationships with these people. If you really like someone in the class, you might find yourself wanting to like their writing. Conversely if someone rubs you the wrong way, you might decide that their writing sucks. Granted this can happen in a one-day workshop too, but the nature of school - the cohabitation, the wine and cheese parties, the late night procrastination - leads to an intimacy, both positive and negative, that can be difficult to set aside during a critique. You also might not want to reveal your messiest, darkest or most experimental writing to people you have to see every week for two years.
Additionally, grad school students are a type. They’re responsible (at least responsible enough to submit the application), academically-minded (they’re signing up for more school) and somewhat accomplished (they must have already produced impressive writing samples or they wouldn’t have gotten in). In other words, any old bum off the street can’t get an MFA.
But therein lies the problem. In continuing education classes where all you have to do is pay the fee, any old bum off the street can participate. And that true diversity enables you to glean how the broader reading public will respond to your work. I’ve taken classes with lawyers, housewives, recovering junkies and fine artists. People that would never apply for a Creative Writing MFA, but rather just wanted to write. Sometimes it is their opinions that are the most helpful and their voices that are the most real. And when it comes down to it, students in MFA programs are no more qualified to write or critique a novel than they are.
Instead of going to grad school, I took my writing as far as I could on my own and signed up for a week- or weekend-long class when I got stuck or when I couldn’t improve upon what I had written anymore. I went to workshops in different cities, taught by an array of teachers. I learned something different about my work, and about writing itself, from each one. I loved the anonymity of workshops that lasted only a few days. I loved that the people in them knew nothing about me and had to simply examine my writing for what it was.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about my third reason for not getting an MFA: Cost.