3. Reason #3 not to get an MFA: Cost
Let’s say that getting an MFA costs around $50,000 (not including housing, books, health insurance, etc). That’s two years and a significant amount of money that you could spend in a myriad of other ways. If you took just a fifth of that money, you could spend it on lectures, workshops, books, week long writing retreats, a personal computer just for your creative writing, or any other number of writing related activities. I did that math some time back and decided to create my own MFA program. I was living in New York and went to lectures (MediaBistro has some great ones), took continuing education classes at The New School, and participated in retreats at Iowa Summer Writing Festival and UCLA Extension. I read books by authors I loved and underlined like crazy. I made myself an arbitrary deadline of finishing my novel by December 31st, and after Thanksgiving I locked myself in my apartment until it was done.
I felt guilty about not making money during that time and I felt stupid for putting so much effort into a project that might have never seen the light of day. And I imagine that you too will try to talk yourself out of going on writer’s retreats in random cities and think obsessively about the ways in which the money you’re spending could be used for other things. But then you will read this again or call a supportive friend, and rationalize that if you spend $10,000 on this thing that is so very important to you, if you force yourself to spend $10,000, it will still pale in comparison to what so many others spend on grad school.
And now for my feminist rant about investing in yourself:
Our society belittles the ambition of women and the ambition of artists in ways that are so ingrained that people don’t realize that they’re doing it, and we don’t realize that we’re hearing it. If your experience is like mine, you’ve repeatedly heard some variation of writing not being a “real” job. Maybe people have belittled your work, maybe they haven’t. Either way our culture is one that glorifies money and its every acquisition over less lucrative pursuits like writing poems and stories.
Please don’t let a lifetime of direct and indirect patronizing messages get in the way of your work. Prioritize your work. Back it up with your money. Back it up with your time. Just because you don’t go to graduate school, don’t dismiss the whole thing. Do what you need to do to get your writing done, even if it means paying for a hotel room in the city where you live when you have a perfectly good room at home, and even if it means that you’re not doing the dishes, laundry, or responding to email because you’re writing. Create your own space in whatever form that takes. And don’t apologize for it.
Ok, rant over. Tomorrow we’ll talk about my fourth reason for not getting an MFA: Timeframe.