Periodically I briefly experience the desire to get an MFA. I don't go through it because I think it will make me a better writer--though I'm sure it would--but because I want to teach. There is this bizarre contradition that exists within the writing world that really bothers me because I think it is only serving to undermine the quality of writing and publishing within the US. There are writers out there who are wonderfully experienced--they publish consitently, write well and tell very interesting stories in their writing, they have a bagfull of life experiences as well as writing and publishing experiences that they could impart on others, and they simply have that certain something that differentiates a very good writer from a merely average one. And yet, they cannot teach because they don't have an MFA. How are we as writers being better served by this system? How are the next generation of writers going to learn not just the craft, but how to be a writer if they don't get the chance to learn from these experienced elders?
This is not to cast any negative aspersions on MFA faculty. However, there is the issue that when I meet someone with an MFA they tend to have a certain perspective on writing and publishing that is consistent with an MFA, but perhaps tilts away from the experiences and interests of so many writers that don't have that valuable three letter title. I have written a lot about why I think literary journals have lost and miss out on growing their audience. My primary complaint is that they so often fail to be interesting. They publish writing that is admired within the educated MFA world, but so often fails to be interesting to people beyond the world of MFAs and even writing. We should not be looking for readers exclusively among writers, but among the great unwashed, those people who get up and take care of kids or go to work or do any one of a number of things that have nothing to do with writing, but would be greatly entertained by a good story and who would gladly pay $30 or $40 for a subscription to a journal that can consistently provide them with the stories that will capture their interests.
And when I think of the writers that I admire, I doubt most if any of them had an MFA--Kerouac, Ginsberg, Stienbeck, Hemingway, and on up to the list of influences that likely can be found along side this blog post. Though, I should note that one of my favorite writers--John Irving--earned an MFA in 1967. So the point is not so much that I would say there is no value to having an MFA, but perhaps too much emphasis is placed on it. Perhaps it should be one means to advance your career as a writer and learn the craft of writing, but not the only means. I would also say that an MFA program could be enrichened by including people as teachers that do not have MFAs, but have demonstrated such strong writing and publishing skills that to keep them from teaching would be a disservice to the students.
And then I return to my own unsettled feelings over having an MFA. For me I am sure it would add a lot to my abilities as a writer as well as help earn me a bit more credibility when I send out queries and the such as well as to make connections, but I simply can't afford to get one. No money. So I will continue to work as a writer and struggle to achieve my own definition of success.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.