Archive for April, 2015

To M.F.A or not to M.F.A.

The article “Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A” in the New York Times this morning caught my attention. After reading the 75 comments that followed, I want to add my more than two cents worth to the debate, which has been the subject of many writers’ blogs before. Not being a graduate of any of these programs, I have a suspicion that if I were a younger, aspiring writer I would  be among those 20,000 applicants to the 381 different writing programs in the country today.

The one compelling reason to complete such a program, providing it is at a prestigious institution, is to make friends in the publishing industry. If it does not afford the opportunity to expose your writing or ostensible talent to editors, publishers and agents; then don’t waste your money–unless, of course, you have a lot of money to spend on your personal pastimes. There is a less expensive way to do that. Besides not all the writing schools in the world will make you a published author unless you have something meaningful and/or significant to write about. Otherwise your brilliant verbal effects are like the dummy dressed up in the latest fashion in the store window. The commenters who recommend travel, a career as a journalist, or finding a job outside of academia give the best advice. These are paths to life experiences that can translate into engaging books above and beyond your personal angst as a writer. Too often the novels of academically-trained writers sport college professors and writers as their main characters. Boring!

There are less expensive methods to develop your writing. Ray Bradbury said that the public library is where he went to school. Through voracious reading he learned to write. Reading widely is the launching pad. Good books inspire; bad books show us what not to do. The next step is to practice the art of writing. Write often; write a lot; good, bad or indifferent write every day. Keep a journal. Try your hand at the essay, short story, novella, the memoir. The third step is to participate in a writer’s group, but choose carefully, making sure the members know how to offer and give constructive critique. A helpful investment of your time and money is to attend, preferably once a year, a writers’ conference. I recommend the Southern California Writers Conference as one of the many held around the country. These conferences usually offer the opportunity to submit a sample of your writing for a personal conference with an editor or agent; however, be sure your kind of writing matches the editor’s or agent’s interest. Think of how many of these workshops over your lifetime you can attend for the cost of that $40,000 M.F.A. degree.

A higher education isn’t necessary as authors like Bradbury prove. If you go for a college degree, any number of fields like literature, history, psychology, or law can produce good writers. The M.F.A. degree on your resume does not guarantee publication. Neither does the less expensive way I have outlined here.

The fact of the matter is there are far more excellent writers than book buyers. Not only would libraries but also millions of people would have to purchase the plethora of books published every year, more of which are remaindered than read.  In today’s market, chances of publication by a major commercial publishing house is a crap shoot. I have dealt with this reality through Amazon’s Createspace and Kindle publication programs. Age is a factor also in my decision. I don’t have the time or energy anymore to write query letters and to submit manuscripts forever. I only retain the passion to continue writing. The universal urge to create accounts for the proliferation of these M.F.A. programs. In my estimation they satisfy a need no different than any other art school. Painters and sculptors long have realized that they are most likely destined to be starving artists all their days on earth. If luck should strike, they can say they were in the right place at the right time and the right person saw and appreciated their work. Bravo, well-done!

For my part, I’ve accepted obscurity and the satisfaction I derive from completion of a piece of writing. Print-on-demand is my solution. The book doesn’t get produced electronically or in print unless a reader buys it.  Perhaps a few hundred strangers have read my books, but they are more than enough to make my solitary art worthwhile. Thank you, everyone.

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