The MFA — “Legitimizing” writers

I’ve always been a writer. Even when I was very young, I would write fantastic stories about spies and detectives, and as I matured, so did my writing tastes and styles.

At this point, I proudly call myself a poet. I’ve had work published pretty regularly, I have a book of my own out there, and while poetry doesn’t keep the lights on and the kids fed, it does contribute something to my existence (see prior posts). With that being said, I always felt that it was pretty important to have something that proved my “writerness” more than just bylines and a strong publication history. Hence, my enrollment in the University of Tampa’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

Yes, I know many of my writer friends out there will quickly jump to the assertion that you don’t “need” a piece of paper proclaiming that you are indeed a writer. With that said, however, the benefits of the MFA program have so far been many and great: I’ve been able to meet and speak with renowned writers, I’ve gotten an inside view of the publishing industry, and my own abilities have become refined as a result of my enrollment.

For some writers, the MFA works. Others believe that a good writing critique group can yield the same outcomes. I disagree. Your writers’ group probably will not  get you introduced to the likes of Philip Levine or Lucille Clifton. If it does, I’d love to know what group you’re attending.

Likewise, it seems that an awful lot of very well-intended people who have been told they have “talent” wind up in writing clubs or groups that are community-based. They bring in their latest piece about granny’s quilt or pappy’s old dawg and expect it to be given the same level of thought as work by Chaucer, all because their ailing mother gave them high praise for rhyming the words “bone” and “home.” Perhaps I’m being a bit snarky here, but I’ve seen this happen.

You get what you pay for, folks. The MFA is an investment in a writing career. If you desire for your writing to be a serious part of your life and not just a hobby, then a degree is the path to that reality. If you’re satisfied being a local celebrity and the “big fish in the small pond,” then maybe a writers’ group is best. As for me, I plan to keep plugging away at the ole sheepskin. One year down, one to go!

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