Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CALLING ALL WRITERS: TO MFA OR NOT TO MFA...


...that is the question. As you can tell by my previous posts I'm feeling quite scattered and dissatisfied with how I'm spending my days of late. I've boiled my discontentment down to this: I want to write. This blog has started me on the path toward my goal but without a community to provide feedback and editing, I'm just spitting in the wind. I did not major in English or go to grad school and I'm envious of those who can quote great authors and write beautiful prose.

Have any of you earned an MFA? Do you think it's a valuable commitment of time and $$ if what I want to do is learn the craft and hopefully publish someday? My preferred forms of writing are short stories and personal essays so it's not like I'm hoping to publish the next great American novel I just want to be the best that I can be (hokey but true). Do you think it's possible to get an MFA (I live close to UCLA) and still be available for my school-age kids? If I should get an MFA is doing one online a good option?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

8 Comments:

mac said...

How weird! Earlier today, I was thinking about this a possibility for you and not because I think you need it. But as a mid-life grad student myself, I am a believer that going the academic route can provide you with a lot more than an opportunity to hone your skills. Of course, there are sacrifices--time, money, loss of flexibility, homework!--but as with anything, they have to be weighed against what you will gain. It's all about what you want and how you think you can best get there. I know that doesn't really sound very helpful, but like most things, it's a decision only you can make.

McSwain said...

I've had the same struggle in my mind. Going back to school at 40 to get my teaching credential was a sacrifice. But I still want to get my masters. My heart tells me an MFA in writing, but I don't know how to do that with my teaching schedule. What online programs have you found?

merlotmom said...

mcswain- i haven't found any yet, still very early in my consideration of getting another degree but i'm assuming they do exist.

Margaret Andrews said...

You and I are SO on the same page about this. I've been toying with that idea as well during the last year. And I want to write short stories and personal essays. AND I live near UCLA (when I'm not living in Sacramento, that is). And that's part of my problem. I don't live in just one city, which makes it hard to attend classes. A wise woman once told me (let's call her Sally, even though her real name is ByJane) that I should only go for my MFA if I wanted to teach. Which I don't. So, it's kind of on the back burner for now. But I feel the same way as you about being more knowledgeable with the famous quotes and literary terms. I could talk your ear off about this, but I don't want to hog all your comment space.

OK, maybe just one more thing: Just this morning I was wondering who of the midlife bloggers were interested in writing, not just on their blogs, and here you are!

Anyway, I believe the wise woman has an MFA, so you could definitely ask her advice.

OK, I'll stop for now. No, really. mmppphhhmmfff!

ByJane said...

The wise woman (ha!) does not have an MFA; she has an MA. And and ABD, which means she never finished her dissertation. After she burnt out as a journalist she went to grad school to get the degree she needed to teach creative writing. Her choices at the time were an MFA at the Stegner program at Stanford or an MA at Cal State University, Sacramento. She didn't know the different so she chose the closer school--CSUS. After a semester there, she learned that you can't get a job teaching creative writing unless you have an MFA. She also learned that she was very good at analysis, so she switched to the lit program and the rest is history.

My suggestion to you is to get involved in a writing workshop. UCLA Extension has some terrific ones. Get your feet wet there. You'll find your community there as well. And the thing about quoting great authors. Yeah, I wanted that as well. And now I can. But I could also use Bartlett's Quotations.

And my final piece of advice--read, read, read. Read the great authors and the crappy ones. See what makes the difference. Figure out for yourself what makes them great and what makes them crappy.

merlotmom said...

Jane- thanks for the great advice. Last night in searching "MFA" (more work on the computer!) I came upon the writing blog of a former UCLA Ext. teacher who (m?) I loved. That was exciting. Now I'm going to go through UCLA's catalog and see what they've got for me. Thanks!

Margaret - here I am, the midlife blogger interested, very interested in writing - let's chat!

Manic Mommy said...

What about starting by taking a class or two whose credits would be transferrable? Find out what it's all about before making a serious committment.

I'm planning on heading back to school (MA Architectural College - for Design) when RC hits kindergarten or 1st grade. I wonder how much is too much too.

Sonia said...

I took the same path as byjane, for the most part--I have an MA, am ABD on my PhD, and I've spent my professional life as a college English teacher and admissions consultant. My MA has helped me get teaching and editing work, sure, but I don't think it has made me a better WRITER, in the creative sense. My writing--the stuff I've had published and the stuff I do for ME--exists completely separately from that stuff.

I think so much depends on what you want to DO with the degree. If you're looking to be a teacher, you'll need it. Absolutely. But you can already write! I just discovered your stuff today (starting my own tentative steps into the blogosphere) and I love it.

If you just want to WRITE and get published, do it! Join writer's groups, workshop your stuff, go to seminars, take master classes--here in Seattle we have a very cool place called the Richard Hugo house that offers incredible workshops.

My favorite "guilty pleasure" novel is Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander." I saw her at a writer's conference a few years ago, and she spoke about how she had workshopped the book with an online writer's group before sending out proposals to publishers. Look where it got her--I'd love her career right now! :-)

Keep writing. Keep reading everything you can get your hands on. Go to school if you WANT to. But don't lose sight of the fact that you can already write.

Good luck!

Sonia
http://www.aginginappropriately.blogspot.com
http://www.soniamichaels.com

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