You may be teetering on the fence of a major decision – to MFA or not to MFA. Here are a few quick tips that may help you decide.
- I’m allergic to tweed and elbow patches give me hives. Every great writer has their photo taken in this coat, sold exclusively in the English Department of any college that has an MFA program worth a damn. The tobacco-packed pipe may be optional in these gone-to-hell days of lung cancer and smoke-free bars, but the wise-beyond-your-years gaze is a prerequisite. If you can’t pull off the look, don’t even bother to apply.
- It’s Barnes and Noble or Bust, bee-yotch. Anyone who is anyone in the publishing world knows that it’s the end goal that matters. Anything less than a table of books sporting your pedigree spells disaster. Or worse – self-publication. An MFA is a broken compass that only points toward obscurity. Look what happened to Michael Chabon. Nobody remembers losers, friend.
- I run marathons, not sprints. Every badass writer eventually takes off their short-story training wheels to write a novel. In fact, short stories are nothing more than the multiple choice test you scratched on a wrinkled Scantron with your Number 2 after a hard night of not studying. With their sole focus on this archaic, pointless story form, an MFA program can have no value to the writer with a word count just waiting for the gun to go off.
- Those who can’t write, teach. It’s like gym class all over again when your coach rode you because he never made it in the big leagues. Few programs out there are offering up PUBLISHED faculty with any real life wisdom to impart to their students. What do people like Sena Jeter Naslund and Marilynne Robinson know about publishing? You may not learn anything of value if you decide to get an MFA, but at least you’ll know you’ll have a teaching job waiting for you.
- I’m the RPatz of Fiction. It is an indisputable fact that there’s no improving upon perfection. Regardless of what MFA programs tell you, it is possible for writers to reach a level of Vogue-airbrushed flawlessness. Once you’re creating the standard, there’s no point in going through the tedious motions of learning. Leave that to the novices who actually need workshops and feedback from fellow colleagues to point out possible areas for improvement.
- Commercial fiction is to an MFA program as Nicholas Sparks is to modesty. Any MFAer worth their weight in New Yorker back issues has the superpower of Pretentiousness. Plus a certain air of Superiority and a mastery of language beyond the Common Man’s understanding. Practitioners of Group Think, all MFAers use words like acataleptic and lalochezia. If you actually want to sell books, an MFA will only cloud your ability to speak down to the masses.
I should probably mention that I’m in an MFA program at Spalding. And I’ve loved every non-pretentious moment of it. Amazing faculty and fellow writers have pushed me to grow as a writer in ways I wouldn’t have sans program. If you’re thinking about getting an MFA, do your research and make sure you find a school that fits you and your goals.