Thoughts on DIY MFA

A few years ago I kept asking myself the question if I should go for an MFA in creative writing. Every time someone would mention it or I’d see an ad, I’d think rosy thoughts about a writing utopia of classmates and teachers who would encourage me and me encourage them in turn and I would suddenly become the writer I’ve always wanted to be. Plus I’d make useful connections I could hopefully turn into a publishing career someday.

But then I’d look at the money and the time and the requirements and realize it wasn’t for me.

I stumbled upon this post the other day about a 1000 Day MFA that you do yourself. It reminded me of why I ultimately decided I shouldn’t do an MFA: the biggest benefit I would get from it is self-discipline. (There are others, of course: the mentoring, the connections, etc.) I realized what I really wanted was someone to stand over my shoulder and make me write. Make me read. Make me be disciplined. And I realized that if I really want to be a writer that badly, that person standing over my shoulder should be me.

So a DIY MFA sounds really appealing. I’m not so certain of the specific schedule laid out in that post, but I could certainly tailor my own program to fit my needs. (For instance, the schedule says read at least one novel a month. I can’t do that. I would be desperate for more like four books a month.)

Even if I don’t construct some version of my own 1000 day program, I think it’s important to think about daily habits and how serious this business of writing needs to be. If I am dedicated to my craft and want to accomplish the things I have dreamed about since I was a kid, shouldn’t I make myself into the kind of person who can manage such daily habits on her own without paying $20,000 a year?

(Just so you know, I greatly admire anyone who has gone through an MFA program. There are lots of benefits and reasons to do so. I’m just not in a place where it would benefit me. Perhaps when I’m a more mature writer.)

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