As some of you know, I chose babies… over a post-bachelor’s degree. For reasons.
It depends on when you ask me, I suppose, because there are definitely those days when I think I’d be further along in my writing, more developed in my voice, more qualified, mostly, in the eyes of editors and the many small presses I’ve queried in the last few years, if I did have a shiny MFA in creative writing to whip out for those cover letters. Maybe some of those assumptions are true.
But other days, I’m content with my choice and with the path toward publication that I’m taking.
I’m generally content, because while I’d be the last person to say that the degree is just a “piece of paper,” I realized that the coursework? the writing and submitting tips and advice? the workshop?–those things were, and are accessible to all creatively-inclined people.
I would posit that MFA students are, if they’re destined to go on and publish, also self-taught to a certain extent. Okay…perhaps not self taught. But self-motivated and in many respects, independent. Because the edge that a Master’s degree provides is, quite frankly, not the materials that students have access to that the average joe does not, but mentor-ship. Minds more practiced than the student’s own–to ask, critique and challenge the amateur writing. Educators who are established writers themselves have spent many years carving out their creative niche, and a Master’s in Creative Writing buys these peoples’ time and their particular resources in the workshop. THAT’s the coveted aspect of learning in an accredited program. However, access to great minds doesn’t guarantee a great writer will be made. True, if you aren’t in an MFA program, you probably won’t study under Gary Shteyngart or Dorianne Laux. But if you’re aware of your narrative or poetic voice, dedicated to reading in greater or equal proportion to writing, and relatively organized–you’ve probably come as far in knowledge and skill as most individuals well into their MFA studies.
You may never meet your literary hero face to face. But you can read his and other writers’ and educators’ works–any and all of them. Critically. Read like a writer. Ask as many questions as you can think of while progressing through these books. Read, ask, write….and do it again. In addition to their literary works, many great writers have written books specifically about the writing process.
Too, we millennials have so much open access to stuff only academics had access to a generation ago! Many schools, like The University of Iowa for example, are offering writing classes free online! Research and study tools, like JStore, EBSCOhost, and other academic databases are also affordably available. Finally, many professional workshops and writer’s conferences are held annually across the country. A workshop, conference, or a consultation can require a little more investment, in terms of time and money, but the great thing with these is that you’ll meet a LOT of people doing what you’re doing.
Speaking of consultation…time for a shameless plug! I’ve been writing for a while and have had marginal success in the publishing world. I would love to offer you a thoughtful, detailed writing consultation through this site–for a much more affordable price than I think you’ll find elsewhere. See the “consultations” tab for more information!
Bottom line: maybe your path has also led you in a relatively non-academic direction; that doesn’t mean your writing must necessarily lack in any way! Create your very own, custom MFA program! Design your own courses, complete with curriculum of your choosing, based on what you, your writing group, or your consultant (wink) feel you should work on!