The Writing: What's the most important thing you took away from doing (or not doing) an MFA?

The Writing: What's the most important thing you took away from doing (or not doing) an MFA?

Hi everyone,

As mentioned on Sunday, if you’d like to answer one question to help me nail down my next offerings or be on the pilot list for them, please do! The survey should work properly this time. :)

To end this series on the MFA (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5), I thought it’d be nice to widen the lens for anyone who has done an MFA or hasn’t done one but still found success.

What's the most important thing you took away from doing (or not doing) an MFA?

Answer below. As ever, here for the next 45 minutes!

Image: Paulownia Trees at Akasaka in the Evening Rain, Utagawa Hiroshige II, 1859. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. A dark blue sky up a slope bears over the first half of the scene with trees outlined in shadow in the background. Small figures with umbrellas are also in shadow moving up and down the slope. The rain comes down in black lines over a foreground of trees and grass lining a road where a few figures in red, blue, and tan clothing walk toward two buildings. Past the grass, a bay can be seen just behind.

I'm at a strange point to answer this because I almost didn't do an MFA, and by the time I did, I had already written a book and signed a contract for it. I'm now in my final year of a 2-year program stretched over three years.

I almost didn't do an MFA because I had already found many of the things that people go to MFAs for: craft, community, and a self-made structure, held together by fellowships and local workshops, that helped my writing along. I was convinced, however, that an MFA would be needed if I ever wanted to teach at the university level.

Friends, down the line, told me this wasn't true. It isn't. Although I have learned, through the nitty-gritty of compensation discussions, that degrees do affect the way my pay as a teacher will be evaluated on hire at universities, you can teach writing without a degree (though jury's out on whether the requirement is that you have a published book).

After making the financial aspect work without having to take out loans, what I got most out of an MFA was time. I learned, retroactively, that the MFA is a transition space for me: one where I stepped away from my full-time job part-time and then full-time, exactly the way my career turned out. It has been a place for me to detach from the rigid structure of a 9-5 while still having an immense amount of freedom to create one that was right for my writing. I feel really, really grateful for that fact. While this may not be the way it might work for you, I found that it made a difference for me, mentally, to have that time to explore.

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