DIY MFA Part 3: MFA Mythology

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Zeus may or may not be so big on the MFA Mythology… photo from flickr/Internet Archive Book Images (link in photo)

In Chapter Two, “Customize Your Learning”, Pereira goes over some myths of the MFA – that you need one to teach writing, that an MFA is a shortcut to getting published (who believes that??), and that the program will force you to make writing a priority.

I don’t know that I’m convinced an MFA or PhD in writing wouldn’t help if you were looking to be a professor (though I agree with Pereira that many professors find they don’t have the time to keep writing a priority). Pereira says that it’s publishing professionals and successful authors who are being selected for teaching positions and this may be true – but there are many publishing professionals and many successful authors that will compete for the same pool of jobs. Wouldn’t it be best to be the most qualified of them all, with teaching and workshop experience, by having an MFA to boast of?

As for the third myth, I was surprised by Pereira’s take on it – that if you can only make time for writing by putting your life completely on hold then your writing career is going to be very short. A DIY MFA is all about that struggle of finding balance between work, life, and writing; it’s all about taking away those external motivators like deadlines and workshops (that I mentioned were hurting my productivity in The Perpetual Writer’s Block) and forcing you to build up your own pacing abilities and internal motivators. This takes time, but I do imagine that Pereira is right on this one – even if I go to earn an MFA after my “DIY MFA” training is long over, having the skill of internal motivation will mean a lot to having a successful career.

Periera will soon be addressing the three main tenants of the MFA in great detail: write with focus, read with purpose, and build a community. I’m interested to see how she proposes you build a writing community – the traditional MFA seems to be a lot better suited to that than the DIY model.

I will admit to wanting to attend an MFA program at some point – when I have the time, the money, and have shown myself I have the grit to make the most of it (which, as a very young and insecure writer, right now I don’t). For the moment, Pereira has convinced me that the DIY MFA method will teach me a lot of valuable techniques, particularly skills to develop my focus and internal motivation.

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