Thursday, April 19, 2007

To MFA or Not? That is The Question.

I'm a young writer, just starting out. I'm working on my first novel and I've just been accepted to a pretty good MFA program, but I'm still considering whether or not to go. I know there are a lot of writers, such as yourself who have made amazing, truly enviable careers for themselves out of smarts and talent, and I keep waffling on whether the MFA is necessary or even that beneficial to the career. Do you have any thoughts?

Ooh, what a good question that opens up a lot of debate, so readers, please do chime in on the comments section.

The truth is that I don't think there's a black and white answer to this, and I also think this might depend on your literary goals. Most writers I know have not gone through an MFA program, but most of the writers I know are more focused on magazines, so getting their MFA wouldn't necessarily help them. That said, I also do know plenty of novelists, and in my close circle, again, many don't have their MFAs.

That said, there's no doubt in my mind that if I were a more literary writer - my stuff is commercial fiction - that an MFA program could and would help me fine-tune my skills. I also believe that a degree would help you land an agent, but only if you graduate from some of the more prestigious programs, such as Iowa, in which agents scout for new talent.

So...the answer is that I really don't know. Again, I think it all depends on your anticipated course and where you are right now, in terms of writing and success.

Readers - what say you? Yay or nay to the MFA?


Therese said...

This is absolutely a matter both of personal preference--because an MFA is certainly not necessary for writing success--but I'll weigh in with "yay."

I have an MFA, and I'm writing commercial fiction (debuting Jan. 29th '08!!). But it's commercial fiction with a literary edge--it straddles that literary/commercial line.

My experience is that the process of earning the MFA invariably improves the quality of a person's writing, regardless of what kind of fiction they aspire to. But it's a huge time committment and isn't the only way to improve writing quality!

Hope Allison won't mind me sharing this link to one of my posts on the subject:

Lisa said...

I'm a novice writer without an MFA, but if I had the opportunity to attend a program, I certainly would. Having said that, I'm a voracious reader and my list of favorite authors includes both those with extensive academic credentials and those with none. I'm sure it depends entirely on your career goals and how skilled you are now.

Anonymous said...

An MFA provides you with an opportunity to focus on writing and learning craft. It doesn't make it easier to sell. It can help if you need a teaching job to make ends meet while you wait to sell.

Everyone I've met on the editor/agent side are clear that an MFA isn't required or even preferred. It is a personal choice.

kate hopper said...

I do think it depends on what kind of writing you want to do. I learned a ton about craft in my MFA program, and it provided me with a writing community and some important connections. It doesn't seem to matter at all as I move into magazine writing, but I do hope it will help as I search for an agent.

R.T. said...

Anyone want to let me in on their mfa experiences? I'm headed to Columbia in the fall...

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Congrats, R.T! I know several people who have gone there (a while ago though). It's a great program.