Because of the difficult second year of my MFA, I didn’t go straight through to my Ph. D. Instead, I took a year off, finishing up my thesis and looking into different options. I applied for several teaching positions at universities all over the country. I went to creative writing conferences. I took freelance jobs. But none of that was really what I wanted. I’d learned in Dublin that an author only makes about ten cents for every copy sold, and I knew that wasn’t a stand-alone career option, unless I wanted my parents to support me for the rest of my life.
As novelist Zora Neal Hurston so beautifully stated: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
“What if I don’t ever return to school?” I remember bemoaning on a fast-food run with my best friend, also age 22. That was my key question, and deepest fear, that year.
The Beginning Every once in a while it hits me that I’m almost done with the first year of my Ph. D. in Creative Writing at a school that people have actually heard of and one that has a decent reputation. Earlier this week, I had a memory pop up on my social media account that said: “ONE YEAR AGO TODAY:” followed by a post I wrote declaring my commitment to Oklahoma State University. For someone who never expected to go to
Should you get an MFA? Only you can answer that question, based on your goals, life situation, and what particular programs might offer you. But should you pay for an MFA? There’s a question that’s sure to spark a heated conversation. Many, well-known writers (and plenty of lesser known ones) will tell you flat out that no, you should never, pay for an MFA.
Anything that gets you writing is a good thing. Taken in that light, I’m happy that I spent 3 years earning an MFA. Was the MFA degree totally useful? Probably not. Then again, I didn’t apply for or accept an MFA thinking I would use it as an academic stepping stone to a Ph.D or something like that—I know some people do. But my writing and life philosophy is that after a certain amount of years in school it’s best to move
Scientists carry out experiments to support or refute hypotheses. A good hypothesis is something that is easily testable, such as: A student enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing program will produce 100x more pages in one year than an amateur writer with a similar level of experience and skill. Unfortunately, I have no data regarding the pages produced by writers who are and aren’t enrolled in MFA programs. All I have is my own subjective experience, which is this: I transformed from a person too scared to
My name is Barry and I’m a little odd. One day, a couple years ago, I said to myself, “I’m gonna go to writing school and I’m going to learn to write and then I’m going to make my living as an author. Why not? I love to read. Can’t be that hard."
At the time, I was living in Alaska and didn’t care to leave because it was (still is) the best place. So, I checked the University of Alaska website to see if they had a writing program. 12 years prior, I had earned a BA inPhilosophy, so I was hoping they had a graduate program.They did. Something called an ‘MFA in Creative Writing’.
After I avoided hawking copper pots at Costco for eleven hours a day, I found my dream job as the sole, untrained receptionist at a garbage processing facility run by taciturn blue-collar men. As I pondered a list of prohibited items including hot ashes and dead animals, musing on the fact that I had the authority to accept cold ashes but not live animals, I finally admitted that my degree in creative writing would likely never make me a financially stable and deeply lauded author. And then I laughed at myself and felt happy again.