Going for the Degree...or Not

Thursday, October 21, 2010
Back in the dark ages when I was planning my wedding and moving to a new town, I mentioned to my then-fiance that I had always wanted to get my master's of fine arts in creative writing. Admittedly, I wanted to be a writer and an MFA seemed the requisite ticket I needed to get there. I applied and was thrilled to get in to the relatively new program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
During my time in the program, I met some legendary writers and compiled a lot of advice. I finished a draft of my novel. My sense of creativity was heightened.
In 2003, I received my diploma and was thrilled.
But wait, where were all the agents beating down my door? What happened to the flashing neon lights to be installed over my house that would blink (or subtly twinkle): WRITER.
Of course, none of that happened. Studying for my MFA gave me time to write. Mind you, as a newlywed and then new mother, I filled my time with life, as well. I made time to attend readings and workshops. I read books and poems and studied and spoke with people I never would have met, had it not been for the MFA program.
A lot of writing sites seem to be parsing whether the MFA is necessary or not. When I entered in 2000, I am not sure I was completely convinced that it was necessary to get an MFA. But I felt I needed one.
Spending 3 years studying and getting an opportunity to teach writing allowed me to feel more confident as a writer. For me, my process is not over. (Will it ever be?) My "dream-blood-sweat-and-tears" book is still not published. But I believe I'm still closer than if I hadn't taken the plunge. I believe that I learned more about my own process than if I had sat alone at my computer for those years: without an MFA, I might have read all the greatest novels in the world and never actually stuck my big toe into the water to finish my novel and start a second one.(Looming deadlines and grades helped!)
Since the MFA, I've let life get in the way of readings and studying, but reading all the buzz about MFA programs lately, I understood that I had been missing my IRL (in real life) community of writers.
I'm excitedly launching a few ventures offline that get me talking with writers and enjoying the amazing energy I get from those conversations.
So, whether you are deciding to take the plunge for an MFA or not, at the very least, search for a group within your community you can be with that will buoy you, your writing and your writing spirit. In the end, degree or no degree, a supportive community is something that every writer needs.

Elizabeth King Humphrey writes, coaches, and reads from her home in Wilmington, NC.


Unknown said...

Yes! the connections with other writers is invaluable.
All those different perspectives connected by a passion for writing make for a support that, I think, fosters individual creativity and assurance.


LuAnn Schindler said...

I agree the connection and conversation with other writers makes a huge difference in a writer's life. But I'm not sold on the MFA. Will it bring an agent? A book deal? I think an MFA program is great to get you to put butt in chair and write and finetune your craft. But as one of my profs told me, unless you plan to teach, it may not be of much use. A determined and focused writer can accomplish the same things, like actually writing that novel.

eliana23 said...

I'm debating the big sacrifices an MFA would take. I'd love to do it but don't know if it is really necessary. Thanks for your thoughts.

Elizabeth King Humphrey said...

Thanks for your comments.
P-A-McGoldrick, yes, those writer-minded folks are a special breed!
Annie, I remember going through the thoughts about teaching, too. I was told that it didn't matter if I had my MFA, I needed a published book to teach. So, I guess I have an apple-cart relationship going.
Eliana23, it is a sacrifice. What might you do instead? Can you find the time and the community to write? I felt I couldn't and that's one reason I went for the MFA. (But I'm still paying off my student loans AND

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top