Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MFA programs

Its been a little too long since my last update--I'd like to have a new post every 1-2 days.  I'll try to work on that.  I have a lot of things I would like to talk about on this blog, but my own writing always comes first.  Sometimes after a day of writing I just don't have the energy or desire to blog.  (I don't blog in the morning for the same reasons--I don't want to drain any energy I could be putting into my own fiction writing).  That said, I would still like to update more.  A lot of it just comes down to discipline--something I need, perhaps more than anything (except tenacity) as a writer.

If you're paying attention to my progress bars, you may have noticed that I recently finished the first draft of my first nonfiction project.  WOOHOO!  I'm actually very satisfied with how it turned out.  There will definitely be some things to fix and address in revisions, but I think that its a pretty compelling piece, especially being my very first nonfiction.  We'll see how I feel about it in a few weeks, but I feel okay about it right now.

Also, as of today, the progress bar for "Sleep of Death 1.0" has also reached 100%!  Which means . . .

I'll be moving on to my second novel project--an attempt at a YA novel.  I'm pretty excited to get back to a novel--it is a lot easier to quantify my progress compared to shorter projects, and I feel like I'm accomplishing so much more.  So I'm pretty excited back into that project, starting tomorrow!

But, in the meantime, I'd like to talk about MFA programs.

This Fall I'll be starting an MFA program--that's a Masters in Fine Arts, in Creative Writing--at BYU, with a focus on fiction.  I'll go into more detail about this program specifically in a later post, but for now I'd like to talk about my experience applying to MFA programs, as well as some general ideas about them.

Two years ago (starting in the fall of 2008), I applied to four MFA programs.  Three of them were very competitive, one was not.  I didn't know anything about the application process, I barely did any research, and I barely spent any time applying to them.

I was rejected from all four of those programs.

That was the major reason why I took a year off between programs (something worth another blog post entirely).  I spent that year working and writing, as well as re-applying to some other MFA programs.  Thirteen MFA programs, to be precise.  Here they are, in list format:
  1. University of Iowa
  2. University of Michigan
  3. University of California-Irvine
  4. Syracuse University
  5. University of Washington-St. Louis
  6. University of Alabama
  7. Arizona State University
  8. Ohio State University
  9. Brigham Young University
  10. University of Nevada-Las Vegas
  11. Sand Diego State University
  12. Portland State University
  13. University of Utah
A lot of high-end schools, some mid-listers, and a few wild cards and lesser-known programs.  But this time around, I was much more prepared.  I spent dozens of hours researching each school, preparing my personal statements (tailored to each program), filling out applications, studying for and re-taking the GRE, organizing letters of recommendation and, of course, working on my writing sample--the single most important component of the MFA Creative Writing application process.

You see, the selection of MFA students is incredibly subjective.  While med programs and dental programs and law programs and others all rely heavily on test scores (and/or GPAs, letters of recommendation, and personal statements), the writing sample is everything.  So, of course, I spent most of my time on that (my writing sample, if you're interested, was "In the Details," a story I wrote in early 2008--I may, if I feel so inclined, post it on the blog at some point, so keep your eyes open for it).

To make a long story slightly less long, I was rejected from 11 of those programs and accepted to two (BYU and Portland State).  Again, I'll elaborate on BYU's program and why I chose it in a later post.

So, you may be wondering:  Why did I spend so much time, effort, and money on these programs?  Is an MFA degree really that necessary in order to become a writer?

Well.  No, its not.  In fact, I don't think an MFA degree is at all necessary to becoming a published author.  The best education a writer can get is 1) by reading and 2) by writing.  In my opinion, those two things (along with tenacity and time) are the only necessities for becoming an author.  You don't need to take writing workshops or classes, you don't need to buy self-help books or special magazine subscriptions or anything, and you certainly don't need an MFA degree (although I won't deny the potential helpfulness of all of those things).

So, again you ask, why would I, Christopher Husberg, want an MFA degree if it isn't necessary?  Why spend all that time and money?

Well, for me there are two major reasons.  The first is derived from the fact that an MFA is a teaching degree--not a writing degree.  By obtaining an MFA I could technically teach at the University level--although I'll more than likely use it as a spring-board into a more "collegiately acceptable" PhD program--because, in all honesty, I've wanted to be a teacher, specifically of literature and writing, since high school.  My desire has always been to be a writer first and foremost, but teaching appeals to me as well.  So an MFA, in a way, is a tentative (and admittedly unreliable) form of job security (the second reason I applied).  If my writing career doesn't work out, or if it takes longer than I would like to get started, I have something else to fall back on (and an excuse to keep writing until I get something right).

I will admit that, if I weren't married, I probably wouldn't have made as much of an effort to get into an MFA program.  If I were single and only worried about myself, I probably would have tried to go straight into publication (which would have been good in some ways, and bad in others).  But I'm not single, I'm married, and although for now its just me and Rachel, I still have that responsibility.  I have a family that I need to (help) provide for.  I like to think that an MFA degree is a profession of my commitment to that responsibility.

But, also, an MFA program will be instructive and educational.  I do think that it will help me become a better writer.  Do I think I would have grown as a writer without an MFA program?  Yes.  But probably not in the same ways, and perhaps not as quickly.  One of the best things about an MFA program is that I'll be able to spend so much time writing.  And I really think that writing is the single most important thing a writer can do (I know that sounds idiotic, but if you're a writer you know exactly how true that statement is).  I'm sure I'll learn a great deal from workshops as well, and forays into the genres of nonfiction and poetry, and writing a thesis, and taking other classes.  But most of all, I'll be able to write.

And, of course, that's what I'm most excited about.

So.  There's some of my thoughts on MFA programs.  If, by chance, anyone reading this is thinking of applying to any Creative Writing MFA programs, I would highly recommend Tom Kealey's Creative Writing MFA Handbook.  I normally don't put a lot of stock into books of that type, but this one was genuinely helpful and informative, and an easy read.  I would highly recommend it to anyone considering applying to MFA programs (you could also check out the blog run by the same guy here).

Well, thats all for now.  Some things I'm excited to blog about in the near future:  Harry Potter, gender diversity, more about nonfiction, Apple products, and more.  Look forward to it.

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