When I was nearing the end of my undergraduate career, a lot of professors started to ask me what I was going to do. More specifically, they assumed I was going to graduate school and would point blank ask what program I was heading off to.
It shocked them when I told them that in fact I was going to a six-week publishing program and then planning to enter the real-world job market. Many of them told me it was a mistake.
It’s been more than a year since I graduated now and a year since I started my job and I still don’t think it was a mistake. I own a condo now. I live in a really neat part of the country, only ten minutes from the US Olympic Rowing practice center, (I just found this out, cool, right?) while most respectable Creative Writing programs are in the sticks of Iowa or Texas (this is a generalization, I know, but it’s kind of true, so let’s move on). When I read articles like this I feel even better in my decision; I graduated debt-free, but would have had to take on loans for an MFA. Sometimes, in the corner of my mind I wish I was still in school so I could write all the time, but then I remember how I actually have more time to write now than I ever did in school, with all those time-consuming general education requirements and exams that, now, seem like such a ridiculous waste (they told me that I could not graduate without taking College Algebra, The Planets, and Exercise Science; they would, they promised, “help me in the future” in some way. I would like to call that bluff. Even as a creative writer, none of those classes even gave me a new experience that would offer even a tid-bit of inspiration for a story).
I understand that MFAs are great, fantastic, life-changing decisions for some people. Annie, for example, (who recently pointed out that it’s national “YA Authors Talk About Higher Education and How It Affects Your Finances” week) loved her MFA experiences and believe they helped her reach her goals (her debut novel is forthcoming from Candlewick).
But, personally? I’m done with learning the theory of craft; I want to see craft in action and practice it over and over again myself.
The best way to do this, I’ve determined, is to read and write A LOT in my own self-designed MFA, of sorts. The poor-mans, free-public-library degree. I’ve always been an avid reader (I’ve read 45 books so far this year, per Goodreads) but this blog post by Joëlle Anthony gave me the idea to really focus my reading time into a study:
After ten years of interest but no book sales, I decided I needed to make some sort of change. I contemplated things for a while and came to the conclusion that many of the successful writers I knew had a lot more education than I did, so I immediately determined that’s what I needed—someone to tell me how to do this writing stuff. After all, my degree was in theatre, not literature or English.
Not surprisingly, all the writers I asked chimed in about the merits of Vermont College’s MFA in writing for kids. I decided that’s what I needed. Unfortunately, what I also needed was the twenty grand to make it happen. When I realized the money wasn’t going to miraculously show up in my savings account, I knew I’d have to move on to Plan B: I’d get all those Vermont College graduates to simply tell me what they learned and it would be almost like going myself.
Yeah…not so much.
However, when I asked for more information about the program, one writer answered me in specifics that changed my life. She told me about the coursework, which sounded interesting, and the guest writers who came in to lecture, which I really wanted to hear, but then she offhandedly mentioned that they also “require participants to read 200 books in their genre.”
Read a lot of books? That’s it? That’s all I had to do? I loved to read!
I could do that.
So, this is the plan, for now. Let’s see how far it gets me.
(Image: State Library and Archives of Florida, Creative Commons)