Musings, Opinion, Self discovery

The MFA Issue

Deirdre from New York wrote: “Reese, I really enjoy your writing and subscribe to your blog. I was surprised to read that your Master’s was not in Fine Arts. Do you feel that an MFA is still necessary in order to succeed as a writer? ”

Something must be in the air. Lately I been reading more and more posts dedicated to this issue. I’m always careful when speaking on the topic of education; I would never discourage anyone from learning.  That being said, I hold fast to two philosophies: writers are self-actualizing beings and creme always rises.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, ” Do not craze yourself with thinking but go about your business anywhere.”

Whenever a young writer tells me s/he is studying literature I am always prompted to say, why don’t you stop studying so much and get on with it.”  If one feels the need to learn the writing process by sitting in a classroom and learning from the masters, who am I to say they’re wrong. Many aspiring writers feel a MFA will somehow guarantee a ticket out of the slush piles one day. But in my experience, publishers care less and less about the existence of the MFA and more about marketable manuscripts. Now, clearly if one needs to develop their craft and sees the MFA as the most potent path to take, go for it.

However, let me write you a check called-r-e-a-l-i-t-y. Writers write. Its that simple, and that complicated. Writing is an art form that comes from the soul. To master the art of capturing glimpses takes personal insight, a burning desire to get the story told, and perseverance.  You’re not going to find that in any MFA program. Historically, the most acclaimed writers weren’t so-called MFA  carriers, obsessed with academic letters; they were philosophers.  They looked at the world as it was and wrote about it with a passion and strength of conviction that is rarely seen in modern-day literature. Deirdre darling, ask yourself this; if you weren’t sitting in class, would you be writing?”  The pursuit of a MFA should not be a deterrent to reaching your full potential as an artist.    When asked, “why do you write?” I always answer, “because I have no other choice.”  I have been writing stories and poetry for as long as I can remember and although I needed to develop my skills in terms of grammar and POV, etc, it never stopped me from putting pen to paper. Brevity, in a this morning’s blog writes on this issue an offers another POV ( Please take a look and while you’re at it, click on the link to MFA candidate, Anelise Chen’s blog, “Blowing My Load: Inside an MFA Ponzi Scheme. It’s quite clever.

As for me, I have never felt pressured to pursue a MFA.  As I’ve often stated, my other passion is child health. That is where you can find my “letters”.  I’m also in the hunt for my Ph.d. in Public Health.  I would love to think that the world would accept my research and findings based purely on my desire to solve child health issues but I haven’t as yet, reached that level of narcissism.   On the subject of my writing craft, it’s a work in progress.  I like writing and I enjoy sharing my journey with other artists. Being a bit of a recluse, writing allows me the freedom of expression without feeling truly exposed.  That’s not to say I haven’t benefited from interacting with teachers.  On occasion I have been known to take a class or two . . , or five in New York.  The city itself inspires me to write but admittedly, the instructors under whom I’ve studied, were wonderful and gave me more confidence in my writing.  But I insist, even that achievement came from the interaction; not the post-graduate certificate.  

So Deirdre, the debate continues. This is a choice you will have to decide for yourself.  However, I offer this advice: whatever path you take, write about it.  Don’t sit in a class, experience the class, write it down.  Don’t accept a professor‘s opinion as the final word, explore other options, and write it down.  Get on with it!


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