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bighark


Feb 8, 2008, 3:49 PM

Post #151 of 213 (3841 views)
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Re: [symmetrical] NEW - rec. letters [In reply to] Can't Post

For creative writing, the faculty status of an applicant's letter writer does not matter in the least.


ejdifili
Emily

Feb 9, 2008, 11:42 AM

Post #152 of 213 (3776 views)
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Re: [symmetrical] NEW - rec. letters [In reply to] Can't Post

You should check out Tom Kealey's book about the Creative Writing MFA.

He emphasizes that it is more important to have rec. letters from someone who really knows you instead of a generic letter from some "big name" academic. A lot of people apply to MFA programs later in life, when they have been out of school for years. In that case, Kealey says you should seek a recommendation from someone who knows you professionally, in your community, or whatever. Although, you should still get at least one letter from somebody who is familiar with your writing.

I really recommend Kealey's book if you are unsure about the process. Granted, a lot of the material in the book is based upon his opinions, but I still found it to be really interesting and helpful.

Good luck!


scheherazade


Mar 11, 2008, 8:31 PM

Post #153 of 213 (3648 views)
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Re: Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm leaving a job I hate and am going to spend the next year focusing on my writing, with the possible aim of applying to MFAs for Sept 2009. During this year I still need to make money, but I'm waffling between a few possibilities. So if you had a year where writing was your primary aim, but where money was still an issue, what would you do:

1) Take some menial job and work as few hours as possible so you can spend as much time as you can reading, writing, and exploring the world around you (in whatever ways your meager income will allow)

2) Take a job that interests and challenges you, that may provide material for your writing but at the same time may cut into your energy or time for writing. You'll get lots of story ideas but you might also get sucked into climbing that ladder and before you know it you've set your writing aside for this other career.

3) Take a job that pays well, but doesn't particularly interest you or help your writing. If it's a straight 9-to-5, you'll still have a few hours each day to read and write, and you can sock away a few dollars to help you in the lean MFA years, or to spend the summer before school starts traveling or relaxing.

4) Some other option?


Vesuvia


Mar 11, 2008, 11:33 PM

Post #154 of 213 (3570 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Scheherazade,

All of this is going to depend on the demands of the particular job, the office environment (maybe it's easy to take some time to write during the day, maybe not), and your own personal level of discipline.

From my experience, it's been very, very difficult to hold down a full-time job (~50 hours/week, more sometimes) and still find the time to write. Especially because my job is interesting, stimulating, challenging, and I want to be fully devoted to it. That means I'm usually exhausted, both physically and mentally, at the end of most work days, and rarely in good form for writing. It's not to say that you couldn't do it, just that I find it nearly impossible. My job has been a great experience, has given me perspective that has helped my writing, and I wouldn't trade the years I've spent in my job for anything - but from here on out, now that I want writing to be my first priority, I know that I can't do both, thus the shift to MFA world for me.

If you can find a job that's really straight-up 9-5 with no other demands on your time or your mind, then that might be a viable option. And the first option sounds do-able as well, since living on a "meager income" is probably good practice for MFA life anyway :) and if the goal is to write, the extra time is going to help make that happen.

Someone on the Speakeasy (I can't remember who) talked about working intensely for 5 months, then taking 5 months off to explore the world and write. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me - sort of the best of both worlds - and if you can swing it (e.g. can go 5 months w/out health insurance, don't have tons of loans or debt already), then this sounds like a great option.

Good luck!


aiyamei

e-mail user

Mar 11, 2008, 11:47 PM

Post #155 of 213 (3556 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

If I were you, I would do a variation on 2):
2) Take a job that interests and challenges you, that may provide material for your writing but at the same time may cut into your energy or time for writing. You'll get lots of story ideas but you might also get sucked into climbing that ladder and before you know it you've set your writing aside for this other career.

So the variation is this: you indeed take a job that interests you and challenges you and gives you story ideas, but is NOT a career track. You might be surprised at what it is. Have you ever read the Alice Munro short story, "Turkey Season"? I think that's what it's called. Much of the story is descriptions of what it's like to gut turkeys. You have to do that kind of work to know how to make a story of it. And yet, somehow I don't think you'll get sucked into climbing the ladder of it and before you know it, set aside writing for it! Unless you've always dreamt of becoming a turkey baron. Who knows. But: it's ripe with possibilities for literature.

My novel came out of a job like that.



(This post was edited by aiyamei on Mar 11, 2008, 11:50 PM)


jaywalke


Mar 12, 2008, 10:14 AM

Post #156 of 213 (3493 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
So if you had a year where writing was your primary aim, but where money was still an issue, what would you do:

2) Take a job that interests and challenges you, that may provide material for your writing but at the same time may cut into your energy or time for writing.

3) Take a job that pays well, but doesn't particularly interest you or help your writing

4) Some other option?


I say go for a mixture of your #2 and #3. Dead-end jobs tend to put you in with a soul-sucking crowd. My suggestion is to get a job at a university. You get to be around smart people who understand the desire to learn, there are libraries near at hand and a lot of other activities, and you are (in general) working for a place that is concerned with something other than profit.

The stakes are low in academia, which ratchets down the pressure and the chance for long hours. It's not that education isn't important, but there are no dying patients or screaming clients/stockholders, and the drama is generally small and amusing if you keep it in perspective. I like my job and find it interesting, but when I walk out the door at 5pm it evaporates until 8am the next day. I have no trouble spending three hours a night on my low-res grad school work.

I'm trying to fill a position right now that requires editing skills, so I'm raiding the English Depts. of the two nearby schools. I didn't get many applicants, however, because the job title has "admin" in it. This is a position that, along with admin stuff, gets to edit papers for major journals, with good pay (great for the area) and full bennies, but people see that word and think: "secretary, not good enough for me." Don't be snobby, and you can find some interesting stuff.

Option 4, obviously, is gold-digging. You need a sugar-momma/daddy.


Lyz
Lyz
e-mail user

Mar 12, 2008, 11:41 AM

Post #157 of 213 (3450 views)
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Re: [Vesuvia] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I have spent the last year working at a menial job that gives me just enough money without any pressure or expectations and plenty of time to write.

Now, I am going into a low-residency program and in order to pay for it I am looking at getting a full time position at my company. A lot more hours, travel, etc. It will be challenging and engaging, but I am afraid that I am not going to have anytime to write.

I know other people have done it, with kids to boot. I have a very supportive husband and my work place is supportive too. So I guess I shouldn't complain. But I go back and forth between wanting this job and hoping they turn me down. BUt I can't go into debt.

*Sigh*

Life works itself out, I suppose. My job is to just keep writing.


http://shopoftheheart.blogspot.com


spamela


Mar 12, 2008, 12:02 PM

Post #158 of 213 (3414 views)
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Re: [Lyz] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I suggest (and I am not even kidding): Naps. Naps after my 9-5 office job helped me reset and rest and get into a place where I could sit down at the computer and write for a few hours every day for my low-res program.

It seems daunting but then you're in the thick and you find a rhythm and you just, well, do it. Also, keep in mind how much money you are paying for the privilege of being overworked. That helped keep me motivated.


Glyph


Apr 12, 2008, 12:14 PM

Post #159 of 213 (3292 views)
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Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

So, I found out that I'm technically waitlisted at a school, but that my chances of actually getting in are slim to none based on my ranking (I'm in the teens and they only accept 6 students). The director of the program sent me an email in which he described the applications they received this year:

"This has been a remarkable application year--we have amid the applicants three already published novelists who want to write their second novel with us. Some applicants have a long short-story publishing record and want to work on their novels with us. Compared to last year's worthy applicants, this has been night and day, and we have joked that none of us fiction teachers, if younger, would have gotten into our program if we had to compete with this pile."

I put this post in the "Preparing for an MFA" thread because it seems clear to me that this particular program puts a great deal of stock in whether or not applicants have a publishing record. It doesn't really seem fair, and it makes me wonder how many other programs operate like this. I realize that there are many people out there who get into programs without prior publishing experience, but is the trend changing? Are we competing with a pool of candidates who want to get an MFA just to work on their second novel? I'm interested to hear what other people think about this.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Apr 12, 2008, 12:28 PM

Post #160 of 213 (3285 views)
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Re: [Glyph] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think the message there is that you need to get published to get into the program. The director was just a little blown away with how many people were published already. Let's face it -- as a program gets more competitive, it's harder for people with promise but no achievement to get in, and this applies to grad programs in math and sociology as well as the arts. But the director expressed his surprise at this year's crop, so it isn't the normal state of affairs.


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Yugao


Apr 12, 2008, 4:16 PM

Post #161 of 213 (3228 views)
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Re: [Glyph] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

I am essentially unpublished, and while I was rejected from many schools, I was accepted to several very good programs. I have only a small publishing record: a few essays, some creative non-fiction. I don't think I even mentioned the few things I have published, because I felt they were not significant or relevant. Obviously, my being unpublished did not matter to the schools who admitted me. Perhaps I was rejected from some schools because I hadn't published, but I doubt it. It is far more likely that my work just didn't appeal strongly to the faculty on some admissions committees.


mpagan


Apr 13, 2008, 3:21 PM

Post #162 of 213 (3128 views)
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Re: [Yugao] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

Same deal here.
Actually I've never sent any of my work out for publication and only have a small amount of completed stories and a few pages of a novel.

I got into Michigan

I think it was purely based on promise - so it happens.

I think most programs like to have a diverse range of experience levels.


__________



Apr 13, 2008, 5:12 PM

Post #163 of 213 (3086 views)
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Re: [Glyph] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

"This has been a remarkable application year--we have amid the applicants three already published novelists...

---------------------------

This kind of sucks, actually. It sounds like more and more published novelists are treating the MFA like a Stegner-type fellowship. Why would instructors even go for this, when many only have one published novel themselves?


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Apr 13, 2008, 5:12 PM)


Glyph


Apr 13, 2008, 5:37 PM

Post #164 of 213 (3066 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

That's exactly how I feel about it.


In Reply To

In Reply To

"This has been a remarkable application year--we have amid the applicants three already published novelists...

---------------------------

This kind of sucks, actually. It sounds like more and more published novelists are treating the MFA like a Stegner-type fellowship. Why would instructors even go for this, when many only have one published novel themselves?



ejdifili
Emily

Apr 13, 2008, 6:11 PM

Post #165 of 213 (3049 views)
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Re: [Glyph] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
That's exactly how I feel about it.


In Reply To


This kind of sucks, actually. It sounds like more and more published novelists are treating the MFA like a Stegner-type fellowship. Why would instructors even go for this, when many only have one published novel themselves?


I totally agree as well. I fully recognize that I'm not, like, the reincarnation of Hemingway or anything; nor am I at the zenith of my writing career. This is why I want to pursue an MFA in the first place: in order to improve. But it seems like things are getting so competitive that you already have to be pretty advanced/accomplished to even get into a program. I keep telling people I wish I'd been born 15 or 20 years earlier, because I think it was just a lot easier to get into grad school back in the day.


calumnia


Apr 13, 2008, 6:12 PM

Post #166 of 213 (3047 views)
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GPA and B.FA's in Creative Writing [In reply to] Can't Post

I wasn't sure where to put this question but it's part of my preparation for my MFA so this seemed like a good spot.

Disclaimer: I'm aware GPA is one of the least important factors in applying, but a few of the programs I am interested in ask for it and I'm having trouble converting my Canadian GPA to American.

Would anyone who did their undergrad in the States (ie: most of this board) be willing to explain how their graduating GPA is calculated? My university calculates on a 9.0 scale but only uses 300 and 400 level courses.

Also: any idea if an undergraduate degree in creative writing will put me ahead of the game? Students in my program come out with 4 years of workshop experience, so at the very least we are familiar with the procedure and have had our writing critiqued.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Apr 13, 2008, 7:01 PM

Post #167 of 213 (3023 views)
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Re: [ejdifili] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

I had a published novel when I applied to MFA programs, and when I came out my writing had been completely transformed. It wasn't just a break of two years so I could write without my wife nagging that I was wasting my time. I am writing stuff now that would not have been possible before the MFA, at a level that I'm pretty sure I would not have reached without it.

Just because people have published, don't bar them from improving their craft in whatever way is best for them.


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


__________



Apr 13, 2008, 7:37 PM

Post #168 of 213 (3002 views)
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Re: [pongo] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

Gotta say, I do find this idea a little wacky -- We must quit denying published authors their opportunities!

I'm not claiming absolutes, but surely we must draw the line somewhere. Surely if Tom Perrota saw George Saunders applying to his program, his eyebrows would go a little crooked. But why? Saunders doesn't outsell most published authors. And he could use some moneyed time to write. And I've never read one interview where an author claimed his art was through growing.

Just seems to me that fellowships already exist for these guys. And now schools admit students who already have an MFA. I know a poet from Iowa for chrissakes applying for a second one because he can't find a good teaching job. I mean, I feel for these guys, but still...


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Apr 13, 2008, 7:40 PM)


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Apr 13, 2008, 8:15 PM

Post #169 of 213 (2979 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

Fellowships are not available to most published writers. I mean, you can apply for them, but you ain't gonna get one based just on having a book published. And a fellowship is not a learning opportunity, in most cases.

And this idea that an MFA is nothing more than a chance to write for two years is wacky. I did a lot of work on mine, and on my craft. If I'd wanted to sit at home and write, I could have saved a lot of money (I was not funded at all, aside from a couple of hundred bucks -- total, for the two years -- from the state of Vermont).


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


MissEsquire



Apr 13, 2008, 9:36 PM

Post #170 of 213 (2931 views)
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Re: [calumnia] GPA and B.FA's in Creative Writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey Calumnia,

I applied from Canada this year and found some conversion charts and formulas online. Also, had gone through (some of) an undergrad creative writing program - which I'm pretty sure is the same one you went to, because I recognize the GPA scale. I also wrote a creative honours thesis. Unfortunately, undergrad experience in creative writing does not really put you ahead of the game in terms of anything that you might write on your application form, but workshopped work will obviously be stronger than writing that hasn't been scrutinized by others and edited. McMaster has a handy conversion scale here: http://careers.mcmaster.ca/students/education-planning/virtual-resources/gpa-conversion-chart


(This post was edited by MissEsquire on Apr 13, 2008, 9:40 PM)


ejdifili
Emily

Apr 13, 2008, 9:37 PM

Post #171 of 213 (2930 views)
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Re: [pongo] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I had a published novel when I applied to MFA programs, and when I came out my writing had been completely transformed. It wasn't just a break of two years so I could write without my wife nagging that I was wasting my time. I am writing stuff now that would not have been possible before the MFA, at a level that I'm pretty sure I would not have reached without it.

Just because people have published, don't bar them from improving their craft in whatever way is best for them.



I, for one, I did not mean to offend published writers with my statement. I only meant to express my own discouragement at the highly competitive nature of acceptance to MFA programs.

Though I have not technically been published, I did win first place in a respected short story contest. Still, I have not, as yet, been accepted to any of the nine programs to which I have applied; all I have to date is a wait listing. Clearly, my writing does not suck, but I feel I still have a lot to learn. I certainly don't consider myself on a par with people who already have extensive publishing records; it disheartens me that I am in competition with such individuals just to have a chance at a learning opportunity.

Though I can continue to learn, improve my work independently and continue submitting pieces for publication, I doubt I will personally get very far until I have a chance at an MFA. This is because my regular job is so demanding that I have very little time left over for writing; I really do need 2-3 years to focus exclusively on my work.

Of course, no one is in a position to "forbid" anyone else from applying to MFA programs if s/he wishes, regardless of his/her previous accomplishments. And just because you published one novel doesn't mean you're already Charles Baxter. It just means you are a hell of a lot further along than I am, and I doubt my capacity to even catch up with you and be able to compete without a shot at the MFA. So, it essentially becomes a vicious cycle.

Maybe I am just bitter, but you might feel the same if you were in my position.


Sal P


Apr 13, 2008, 10:47 PM

Post #172 of 213 (2902 views)
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Re: [ejdifili] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think we just have to respect the programs' decisions on who is and is not a good fit for their MFA. If programs just want highly experienced writers who are sure to publish and make their program look good, then that's their decision. But, eventually, the word will get out that they're just a glamor program, a grant with a degree attached. That's why I think we see unpublished writers getting into even the top programs. They want good writers, the publishing credits are less important to the skill level.

We'd never tell a chemist who's been out of undergraduate school for 10 years and worked for Dow that they are too experienced to get a masters or a doctorate in their field. The same rules apply to us, as annoying as it is to compete against far more experienced candidates.

I've done poorly this first round (one waitlist, 4 rejections out of 5 applications) but I'm pretty sure it's because I sent bad stories and not because my publishing record is rather slim.


fiorava
Valerie Fioravanti

e-mail user

Apr 13, 2008, 11:17 PM

Post #173 of 213 (2883 views)
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Re: [ejdifili] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

Years ago, the Speakeasy had a forum on the post-MFA life. I know that, as someone entering an MFA program, I found the discussion there both illuminating and seriously daunting. I think a thread like that one has serious value in understanding the life most of you are currently seeking.

Writers are pursuing multiple MFAs (thus the highly published competition) because they have few alternatives. A TA generally pays more than adjuncting (teaching on a per course basis), so post-grads are often teaching 4-7 courses at a time to get by, usually at 3-4 universities. Full time jobs, particularly in CW, are hard to come by. I have a friend with two books who just completed her second unsuccessful job search. I am fortunate to teach only creative writing, and I teach at both the extension and the graduate level, but I am still paid per course with no benefits. I spend a lot of time hustling for new and better work opportunities.

Publishing is the answer? Well, my short story collection, where four of the stories published were nominated and/or special mentioned for awards, has been on the market for two years. It's been close to a sale twice, each time the book was orphaned when the interested editor left the company (once to take a more lucrative job in magazine publishing, once by death). Every writer I know has a similar story to share, so it's not even unusual (okay, the death part was). Remember those short story collections with partial novel deals agents used to pull off? Well, writers like Eugenides, Packer, Diaz either took years completing novels or haven't finished yet. Now your agent expects you to finish the novel before she tries for that two-book deal. If you spend every free non teaching or editing moment working on the novel that will thrill your agent, your current or future employers will ask questions like, "Why haven't you won any more of those nifty awards that make us look so good?" or "Why haven't you published outside your genre this year--we hired you for your versatility?"

Now, I think my writing life is a modest one that is on the right track. I write. I teach. I edit. I worry about time and money and what my obsession is doing to the rest of my life. But, it's the life I wanted, just at a much slower speed than I ever expected. The truth is that many writers are using the MFA to be a cushion-period in the early stages of a difficult and demanding career. For those of you who just want a chance to learn and improve, that seems cruel and unfair. Which seems to be a good dose of what the writing life is like. Competition is fierce, and good fortune can be as much about luck and timing than talent and preparation. Luck can also come and go. I know we all dream of that Pulitzer or sitting on the couch across from Oprah, but if you want to write, persistence under daunting circumstances is a good skill to develop.


cantonioni


Apr 14, 2008, 1:40 AM

Post #174 of 213 (2838 views)
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Re: [fiorava] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post

Amen.


aiyamei

e-mail user

Apr 14, 2008, 9:44 AM

Post #175 of 213 (2785 views)
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Re: [ejdifili] Need to be published to get an MFA? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I doubt I will personally get very far until I have a chance at an MFA. This is because my regular job is so demanding that I have very little time left over for writing; I really do need 2-3 years to focus exclusively on my work.


I think it's very unfortunate that you think this way. Neither historically nor worldwide is it the case that most successful literary novelists have MFAs, nor is it even the case now in the U.S. What makes you think that you would have to have an MFA to "get very far"?

I know you feel you just don't have the time, but try to unbend this kind of thinking. You can find a less demanding and stressful job. You can start writing a novel that is important to you. You can start to really work. There are many good books on fiction-writing, many of which are written by the very same people who would be teaching you if you went to grad school, only that in the books they have distilled a lifetime's worth of lessons into the clearest and most concise form -- the written word, which is their natural element anyway.

I used to think the way you do. Then I re-focused, re-prioritized, and re-structured my life, and now I'm reaping the fruits. As those who know me here can attest, it's not that I am so sure that I could not have benefitted from an MFA. I'm sure I could have. But it is also high time we acknowledged what is to be gained by skipping it, so that no one falls into the trap of believing that their work must of necessity be stalled until the day they can join a program.

By skipping an MFA you gain:
-- freedom from anxiety of influence of peers
-- freedom to live in ways highly idiosyncratic and intense, about which you can write with a level of passion that would perhaps be watered down if you were living in a more culturally mediated way
-- experience at the very jobs and in the very milieus that writers complain of as sapping time and energy from the writing desk, but which are often the best stuff of fiction. And no, you will never know what those jobs are like just by having a friend with the job, or doing research on it for a few months. It's not the same.
-- (This last point is the most ephemeral, but I think it's also important.) The life of the writer is not incidental to his or her work. Ultimately it becomes part of the larger text. Do you want your life to be the story of how you became part of the American literary-academic system, a fellowship here, a grant there, a life of applications, a life of heightened socialization? If you do, then that's fine. That's one choice. But it's not the only choice, and it's not necessarily the most artistic, nor the most trail-blazing, nor the most vicious or true or beautiful.

I truly have nothing against MFAs, and I'm happy to admit how much a person has to gain by having one. I just think that in the current American climate, there's not enough articulation of what is to be gained by skipping it. In a phrase: grand-scheme independence.

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