All Of This For…?

October 17th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

If you want to make people crazy, just mention that you attend school for the sheer joy of learning. But, they say, what about a job? A career? A resume padder? No, you insist, it is the learning I desire. Nothing more.

Though we’ve taken formal writing classes, we’ve never really thought about entering a MFA program. It seems, to us, to be a plastic bubble sort of writing experience (though we know graduates of some programs, and they are not plastic bubble sort of people…but we know that you know what we mean). We read an article today that, after stating that most graduates won’t publish, says:

After they leave M.F.A. programs, most graduates return to the types of jobs they held before (if they had employment experience). Writing assumed center stage when they were in school, but the process of earning a living turns it into a hobby.

Okay, on one level we get this. For a long time, writing was something we did, but it wasn’t what we did. That was the creative accounting job. We liked the office overlooking a cemetery — there was a certain irony and a certain peacefulness. But we have trouble with the idea that one would devote the time and effort necessary to earn an MFA and then turn around and act like nothing has changed.

Then again:

Given that few graduates find permanent teaching jobs, programs need to reorient their students to the realities of the literary marketplace. They should help students and graduates understand how to publish their work and how to find literature-related employment. Yet career services at most programs range from nonexistent to informal. Rarely are career-oriented courses assigned in these programs, although perhaps a copy of Literary Marketplace or Writer’s Market may be found in the departmental office.

This reminds us of a friend who is a visual artist. He attended an art school that focused on commercial art. In the eyes of some, he wasn’t an artist because his school wasn’t cool. Today, he is very successful. We saw him recently — he was headed for Tokyo to meet on a potential project. However, unlike other art school graduates we know, he just opened his own gallery, is in demand, and runs a successful business. We know we harp on the business aspects of writing, but there’s a reason. Art is great — we wouldn’t write if it didn’t address something deep inside. But when you walk out into the real world (we have learned this is called a “reality-based community”), you need to know how to fend for yourself.

We’re not sure what the lesson learned from this cautionary tale is. Perhaps it’s that you need to know why you’re earning an MFA. Perhaps it’s that advanced education does’t guarantee success. Perhaps it’s that writing is damn hard.

File Under: Tools and Craft