I like to tell people who ask about my graduate schoolwork that I gave up the lucrative field of journalism to take up the more practical work of creative writing. Sometimes my audience gets the joke.
Graduate MFA students are keenly aware the odds are stacked against us. Very few, we are told, will go on to be classic authors like Ernest Hemingway or Flannery O’Connor. Not many will earn the cash of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
Still, Creative Writing MFA programs around the country have increased to near 300 from only 50 in in the 1970s, according to a 2007 article in The Atlantic by Edward J. Delaney: “Where Great Writers are Made: Assessing America’s top Graduate Writing Programs.”
No one has ever accused a writer of being realistic. In fact, writers, especially in fiction, are anything but. Even non-fiction writers are working with an element of storytelling that requires suspending a bit of reality.
Still, I’d argue that we are in an age where, unless you are a phenomenon, a degree is a necessity for most job opportunities. That piece of paper, those years spent toiling away, are the authority by which we can declare ourselves writers. It’s official, says the diploma. Therefore, I am.
I’d venture to say most of us are looking for “permission” to write. People around us read, and many say they’ve always wanted to write a book, but, generally, announcing ourselves as writers invites a quizzical look and a request for proof. “Oh? What have you written?” Which is to say: “What have you published and can you produce a copy of it out of your magic backpack?”
Writing is indeed magical and its products are the outcome of laborious hours spent sitting and thinking. Much like scientists, we question, hypothesize, test, troubleshoot, analyze, come to conclusions, and communicate. Granted we cannot always change the world. But we can often change a reader’s mind.
In my own experience at Lesley University, I’ve found a community of people who understand the constant story-making in my head. Any number of words in a conversation can stop my train of thought and send me into a monologue within my brain – a narrator confiscating my conscious thought for his or her own desires.
“I found my planet!” I declared during my first residency. “These people get me,” I celebrated. An MFA program brings together people who typically function in solitude, as writing is, most often, a solitary act. It validates our desire to create. These programs connect screenwriters to poets to humorists to young adult authors as well as traditional fiction scribes. We weave together a safety net, so that when the writing gets tough, the tough tell you to get writing.
Here on The Planet MFA, we speak the same language. The same blood, teaming with verb, adjective and simile cells, pulses through our veins. We are afflicted with the same itch – to translate the cacophony in our heads onto paper.
We dance with papers and essays and annotations. We drink at pubs like writers do. We pilfer the poets for metaphors and mine the non-fiction group for honesty. We go back to school because we can. We go back to school because we hear the call and we answer.
The SolLitMag MFA Voices blog is a recurring feature at SolLit. Here you can read thoughts, opinions and musings from creative writing MFA students across the country. Look for the blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on our website and “share” wherever you can. We invite and welcome your comments! If you are in an MFA program or an alum of one, we also encourage you to submit a guest blog related to the MFA experience for consideration.