I am addicted to education, almost as much as I am addicted to writing. But there comes a point when we must all ask ourselves where our priorities lie. If you are considering a writing program such as an MFA or even just a local class, this is certainly a question you must ask yourself. There are many benefits to such programs, but as writers we have to make sure to juggle the time accordingly and remember that writing comes first.
That said, I will promote the idea of furthering your writing education, because too often I see people that say they want to be writers but have not bothered to study the craft. Being well read is certainly important, but you need to know what editors and agents are looking for nowadays. You need to understand what omniscient is versus third person or first person, and that, while authors such as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo were great, their style of writing is a harder sell today. This greater understanding of modern fiction and the market is one advantage of taking classes.
Another, and probably more important reason, is to see what sort of mistakes other novice writers are making. If you have never workshopped your material and provided feedback to others, this is a must. Too often we have blinders on and are unable to see our own faults, but once you see that writer Billy Bob constantly uses the word “just” and never uses any of the five senses aside from sight, you may start to see similar issues in your own writing.
I have taken a variety of classes and been a member of several critique groups, but I can honestly say pursuing an MA in writing at Johns Hopkins has been an amazing experience. I have met some great friends who share my passion for writing. I received very valuable feedback from instructors and students, and was able to work one-on-one with a professor on my novel. And it gave me the opportunity to intern for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. If you are serious about writing, how could you not want such an experience? Check out the many great MFA and MA in writing programs out there.
Of course I realize we face constraints such as time and money. If you can’t afford such a program (ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 for two to three years, it seems), check out your local writing classes or writing groups (see my advice on the New Year’s post). If time is your issue, maybe you should consider low-residency programs? I hear Spalding has a great one. My thought is that you are going to be writing anyway, so it isn’t really extra work. It’s just more focused work.
Before I come to a conclusion, I would argue there are two types of writers: Those that need to write, that desire at all times to be writing, and there are those that want to write but must force themselves. If you fall into this first category, you are going to write no matter how much time you spend in classes or working on blogs, because you love to write. If you fall into the second category, you still may make it, but you need to focus. You are the type that may want a program to structure you, or you may be the type that should take one or two classes to learn what you can, but then focus your time on actually writing. I don’t really comprehend the second category, but imagine that you will eventually find yourself loving what you are doing and will fall into the first category, or give up. But I have read interviews of professional writers that say they hate to write, so what do I know? Whether you like it or not, find the system that works best for you and get the words on the page.
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