In previous writeups, I've discussed how insanely stressful it was to purse my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing on top of my full-time job and other obligations. So the natural question people ask is, "Was it worth it?"
One of the things that most creative writing programs advertise as a feature
is that each student learns about his or her individual writing process
and presumably becomes a better writer as a result. My writing process was not a mystery to me before I started the Goddard College
MFA program. I understood how to build an organic plot
from character conflict
, how to create voice
, how to generate narrative tension. I knew how to brainstorm
far more ideas than I will ever have the time to turn into stories and novels and poems. Which is not to say that my prose was above reproach; there’s always room for improvement. And my feedback from my Goddard advisors was reflective of that: my first drafts are decent, solid work, but there are always ways they could become even better. So I push forward, always trying to approach the unreachable, wholly subjective
elements of perfection
But I’ve come to realize that my writing process and my creative process are two linked but different things. It’s an important distinction. And while my creative process wasn’t entirely a mystery, the troubles I encountered in my final terms indicate that clearly I had a much less firm grip on it all than I thought I did before I started my MFA work.
My struggle with writer's block highlighted the aspects of my creative process that need more attention to prevent slowdowns. Certainly, I still need to produce work and press on even if my muse appears to have stood me up on a given work day … but I can’t treat myself as a fiction production assembly line. I can’t treat myself like a machine that needs kicking if it starts faltering. Percussive maintenance might work for a stuck valve in a gasoline engine, but mental beat-downs are just going to make me resent my work.
And if I resent the work that is uniquely mine, the work that only I can do, the work that speaks to my reason for existing more than anything else in the world, where will I be? I will be stuck. I will be miserable.
I have to trust in my own creative process to facilitate my writing process. The writing process isn’t always joyful, but the joy is there, and I can’t forget to embrace it. There are a thousand easier ways to make money and earn a living. I have to find the reward in the writing, not in the having written. I can’t be so focused on the finish line that I forget to experience the journey.
But aside from learning that valuable lesson, was pursuing an MFA at Goddard worth all the work?
In my case, yes, it was: I achieved the major goals I set out to accomplish and I produced a lot of good work that I have either sold or expect to sell. The program was a good (but not perfect) fit. It was life-changing experience for many of my classmates, but not for me; Clarion was that experience for me, and I knew going in that I was unlikely to experience it again. In short, the program met my expectations and exceeded them on some levels.
And the key for me was that I found funding through CIC.edu and didn’t have to go into debt for my degree. I wouldn’t have pursued it otherwise. The cost of paying for the program out of pocket -- roughly $9,000 per term -- would have absolutely been a deal-breaker.
If you can find funding for or feel you can afford an MFA and are prepared for the possibility that the degree may not improve your employment prospects, an MFA is worth considering. I definitely think that the Goddard program helped me become a smarter writer and better teacher in ways that I probably wouldn’t have accomplished on my own.