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A Much Less Interesting Post Than I Had Planned

Hey there, folks. Sometimes I feel like I’m posting far too frequently on my blog. I had intended to write a far more interesting blog about novels that are out of control being better than ones that are under control–i.e. Moby Dick compared to Lolita or anything else by Nabokov. But what this post is turning out to be is something about the MFA. Graduate school. To get a Master’s in being a writer. Sounds kind of hokey, doesn’t it? As you probably know, there’s always a debate raging over whether or not writing can be taught, a debate so strong for some people that it comes down to a dichotomy between people who think the MFA is a rip-off and people who think that the MFA is essential. Of course there is no such dichotomy in real life, but for some people in this debate, there are only two sides. Me, myself, personally–I subscribe to the belief put forth in a book on craft I read a little bit of a while ago: “I don’t know if writing can be taught, but I’m completely sure that it can be learned.” What an elegant quote. Filled with ambiguity and yet very pointed and definite. And it seems like it’s that complex nature of the quote that makes me believe in it so strongly.

Teachers of writing can’t do everything for the learning writer. They can make the writer do what he should already be doing–read and write. And beyond that, for a little while they can analyze the writer’s work and tell them what they see and what they think should be changed. They can also have the writer read the works written by his (the writer’s) peers and tell what he (the writer) thinks about each story to learn what it is that should and shouldn’t be done. But ultimately the best advice the teacher can give are the guidelines that craft books have been extolling for years. I want to address what I think seems to be the biggest boon of the MFA: making the writer feel involved in the world of writing.

Now, please remember, this is coming from someone who has only begun the vaguest planning of where, when (and if) he is going to apply to an MFA program. But what it seems like to me is that, like the Tin House Workshop, one of the biggest advantages of programs like this is to create an actual closer, tight-knit microcosm of the literary/writing world. The writing world ceases to be an abstract concept where we’re simply linked by ideas and becomes an actual community where we live with, among, and around people who value the same things as us. It also puts us into direct contact with those who have proven themselves in the writing world and gives us an opportunity to hobnob (for lack of a better word) with those people.

A second more practical use of the MFA is geared toward what happens after school, not only in the case of our writing, but also in the case of our working lives. “What are you going to do with a degree in creative writing?” A parent or friend or whoever might have asked you. They’ve certainly asked me. And with an MFA, we can at least reply, “Teach.” At most MFA programs, students get the opportunity to either be TA’s or actual professors by teaching 100 level courses. After college, if the student has graduated from a very famous and elite MFA program, the possibility of him or her getting a job teaching at a university is quite good.

These seem like two very good reasons to get an MFA to me. There will always be opinions diverging on this subject. But I think I wrote this post as a kind of way to talk to myself about whether or not I should get an MFA. The answers seem to be overwhelmingly on the yes side, though. So I guess now all I have to decide is where to apply and when!

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About rydowney

My name is Ry Downey. I'm sometimes a poet. I exist and sometimes that's really difficult.

2 responses to “A Much Less Interesting Post Than I Had Planned

  1. I’m all for MFA programs; pretty much for the exact reasons you mentioned. I don’t think they’re necessary all the time, but I don’t think you can really get enough of a handle on the history and traditions to break away from and extend them with just a BA, which I don’t think anyone would argue is not essential.

    Personally, I cannot wait to get into an MFA program. It’s probably the one thing I’m looking forward to more than any other right now.

  2. rydowney

    I found this forthcoming quote from Charles D’Amborosio. This is basically my thoughts on why I need to do the MFA instead of going the route of the M.A. and then PhD:

    “At the time, I liked to read because I liked to think about life, and novels and stories and poems seemed to offer the richest way to investigate living—but in grad school it’s all about the text, and life itself is a ridiculous concern, a distant rumor. I wanted a greater connection between reading and life, a deeper urgency. I needed to reconcile my impulse to read with the facts of my life and the world around me.”

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