Mar 24, 2008, 3:09 PM
Post #362 of 793
Hi RPC, I completely agree with you, and I see where you're coming from.
My basic argument is just that the community an MFA provides (faculty, fellow students, and other literary types who flock to places where writers congregate) is the single greatest reason to go after an MFA, and clearly Mason (and many other schools as well) can offer a community that will put you head and shoulders over those who don't have the MFA experience at all, and is therefore nothing to sneeze at.
But it's precisely because I am convinced that the community is the single strongest reason to get an MFA that I would urge someone to make the strength of the community their primary criterion in choosing where to go. The way I see it, the community is simply that much more manifold in NY, where there are four MFA programs more or less on top of one another (Columbia, New School, Brooklyn, Hunter), and publishers/magazines/agencies galore.
But let me just be completely honest and expose where I'm coming from, although I know it will in some ways discredit my opinion (and if so, then so be it!):
First, I wrote what some would call an ambitious and experimental novel, and then with this novel I managed to get quite a good agent, and I'm working on revisions with him right now and I feel like I'm growing all the time, improving but then also not improving, struggling two steps forward and one step back, wrestling with the thing over and over, but in any case, I'm going through what I'm convinced could not be more hellish or intense, but also with no steeper learning curve, than if I were in an MFA program. So I'm simply not convinced that an MFA is something a person has to necessarily do for the sake of "craft" or more simply put: for the sake of learning how to write. However, since I didn't go to an MFA program, I've done this alone, and that's something I do not feel good about -- it could definitely have been improved by being in an MFA program. The loneliness has only gotten worse with time. I've hated it. It's been very hard. Finding good readers, before I got my agent, was incredibly difficult. And I've been very lonely in terms of trying not to feel crazy for putting everything on the line for a novel, in terms of feeling like I had any sort of mandate. Then later, the process of figuring out how to pursue publication was also very hard to navigate, and ultimately I feel like I only had some measure of success because of advice I got from friends in New York who were clued in. While they didn't do me any explicit favors, they knew through friendships and acquaintances who was rumored to be interested in picking up experimental literary fiction at that time. I mean, if my book had been terrible, this advice wouldn't have helped, the agents I cold-queried would have just turned me down (as many did) -- it's not that I think you can be an insider and thusly crowned king of the hill forever and basta, your work is done. No, first you have to write the best book you can, but then if you also are ensconced in this nation's largest literary community, you might well have an easier time of it.
So that's where I'm coming from when I run around giving advice to people on an MFA board without even having an MFA!
And please, I hope no one will think that I'm trying to disparage non-NY programs -- I'm just trying to pass on what I feel like I've learned through this process the hard way -- about the insideryness of NY our nation's publishing capital, about the advantages of being in a good position with that publishing world, etc. NONE OF WHICH is to say that you can't go about cultivating these advantages through other means, and I'm living proof of that myself (I live in Germany for god's sake, and sure, I could have moved to NY if I had really been so convinced it was the only way to go.) But absolutely feel free to reject this very, very un-expert advice.