A number of people seem to be under the impression that in the previous post I was recommending against MFAs. My post was about undergraduate, not postgraduate study. I made no such recommendation.
As it happens, I know a number of people who’ve found certain MFA programmes extremely useful. The Vermont one, for instance, has been a wonderful experience for several friends of mine. But the vast majority of full-time professional writers do not have MFAs. Nope, I don’t have statistical evidence to back that up, but I’d be very surprised if I was wrong.
My post was in response to teenagers who asked about majoring in creative writing for an undergraduate degree. They seemed to be under the misapprehension that such a degree would automatically lead to a career as a full-time professional writer. It will not.1 Or that it is the best preparation for such a career. It is not.
There are a million different paths to being a writer. Most writers have had (and have) a huge variety of different jobs and studied (if they did at all) a wide variety of subjects. There are as many different experiences and backgrounds as there are writers. And don’t forget the vast majority of published writers are not full-time writers. They have other jobs.
Garth Nix, who confessed to having an undergraduate degree in writing, did not graduate and instantly become a New York Times bestseller. First he worked as a bookseller, an editor, an agent, and, I’m sure, many other things. He read and read and read and wrote and wrote and eventually was published and later still became a New York Times bestseller.
Do I think if you do major in creative writing that you’ve made a dread awful mistake and your life is over? No, of course not. Everything that happens in life is useful to a writer. The good, the bad, the ugly and the boring. I have a friend who swears she learned way more about human nature in a critique circle than she did travelling through Europe and Asia.
If I’m asked the question again will I answer the same way? Sure. I think there are way more useful things to major in as an undergraduate. Something that hones your research skills, for instance.
You can study anything at all, do any kind of job, and still become a writer. All I am saying is that studying creative writing is not a prerequisite to becoming a writer.
- I’m sure there’s some exceptions somewhere but they are so rare as to be irrelevant. [↩]