The Value of a Creative Writing MFA – A (sort of) IWSG post

Lesley University Student Center
First Semester at A Glance
My first semester at a glance

In the very first post for this project way back in July of 2017, my entrance into an MFA graduate program of studies spurred the creation of this site. I’d been studying creative writing at Lesley University for just over a year at that point. Someone–I don’t remember who–suggested I start a blog.

So, I did. I called it a project rather than a blog, though, because I don’t really understand what a blog is. Is this site a blog? It’s irrelevant, I supposed. The point was to document my journey through my MFA program.

Which brings me to the main point for today’s entry.

Lesley MFA graduates 2018

I GRADUATED!!

Holy shoot! I’m done. It’s over. No more assigned books to read, reflective papers to write, deadlines to meet. No more feedback letters to read, mentors to pester with longwinded emails that are 90% anxiety dumps and 10% legitimate questions, no more residency classes to prep for. As of this past Saturday, I am Katherine Karch, MFA.

Thoughts are bouncing around in my noggin about the experience. Fresh, virgin, unanalyzed ideas. And they might be important, so I’m writing them here before I forget them. No doubt, I’ll be processing my MFA experience for years to come, but right now, one thought is burning brightly in my mind:

 

What did I get out of this crazy, two-year-long journey?

There are a few possible answers. The literal education, for one thing, was outstanding. I am definitely a more skilled writer now than when I entered the program. The daily discipline I developed over these past two years will serve me forever as I pursue a career in writing. But I think the community I got plugged into via this program might be the most important thing I gained.

The community? I can practically hear doubters rolling their eyes (that’s how hard they’re rolling them). You want a community? Babe, that’s what Facebook groups are for. You didn’t need to pony up X dollars for a masters program to get a community.

Hatrack River WorkshopThe Insecure Writer's Support GroupFirstly, don’t call me babe. Secondly, Facebook is a false community. So are all the thousands of other online communities that exist for writers, several of which I am a member and enjoy. The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is one. And since this is technically (although not completely) an IWSG post for the month of July, let me pause for a moment and plug that particular group. As far as online communities for writers go, it’s one of the best.  Thanks to this month’s hosts: Nicki Elson,Juneta Key,Tamara Narayan,andPatricia Lynne!The question for this month was: What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)? I’ll be partly answering that question later on in this post.

NaNoWriMo and CampNaNoWriMo are two branches of another online resource. The Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop is yet another. They’re all great, but none of them is an actual community in so far as I’ve never met any of the other members in real life. The camaraderie and support I can garner from these groups is inherently limited.

I cannot speak to other MFA in Creative Writing programs, and I cannot speak to other people’s experience in the MFA program from which I just graduated. I can only tell you that, for me, the price tag worth it. The education I received at Lesley was outstanding, but the friendships I made might be even more important to my long-term success.

Contrary to the age-old cliché, writing is not a solitary process. Not if you want to be successful. A writer needs support from other folks, real folks they know in real life. People they can call, or have dinner with, or go to conferences with. People with whom they can stay up late talking about ridiculous things. That’s probably been true since the beginning, to be honest.

I entered graduate school two years ago not knowing any other writers. Today, as I sit and write this overly wordy blog post, I am thinking of a long list of writers both new and established whom I can now call “friend.” A select and small group of them might be (if I’m exceedingly lucky) my friends for life. And, now that I’m no longer their student, I am going to try on the descriptor of “friend” when referencing the mentors with whom I worked–Tracey Baptiste, Mikki Knudsen, Susan Goodman, Chris Lynch, and Jason Reynolds. It feels audacious of me, but be bold, I say. They were/are amazing people, and I hope to stay in touch with them (professionally, even, if everything goes according to my evil plan, mwah-ah-ah-ah).

A very well established and successful author who shall remain nameless told me just two nights ago that success in this industry (publishing) is as much about who you know as it is about what you know. That probably sounds very cynical, but I suspect it’s also true. Having navigated this program all the way through to the end, I am delighted to say that I am on stable ground on both fronts. My writing is better, and I know a lot more people. In knowing more people, I am significantly better positioned to achieve my ultimate goal as a writer, which is to support myself and my family by writing books. I have networking connections within the traditional publishing industry, and I have a community of people whom I know and like and trust. Folks who care about me and want to support me. Likewise, I care about them and want to support them.  That’s going to make the road to success far less jarring and  far more enjoyable.

Graduation DayI did it. I graduated. I am a creative writing “master,” which is a little weird to write. The title “novice” would probably be more accurate. But, two days out from having received my handshake and diploma (not really, just a certificate. The diploma will arrive in the mail a month from now), I am feeling most grateful for the people I met and the relationships I forged. If anyone ever questions my choice to pay for a masters in creative writing, citing the fact that I could have learned “all that stuff” from craft books and YouTube, I will simply smile at them and give them a pacifying nod. I will never regret my choice to do this because if I hadn’t attended Lesley, I would probably never have met and become close friends with the people I did. And isn’t that what life is all about? The people we meet? The relationships we form? The communities we build? It is for me.

 

How important are your friends for your long-term success in achieving your goals?

Comments

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  1. Jemima Pett

    Congratulations! It’s been a pleasure following your progress.

    And I agree with you about community. Writing community is no different from any other professional/interest community – it’s better to be a physical one, with people you can meet up with and have a cuppa, etc. But in the absence of that, online communities still help each other. And some of the ‘friends’ you make can turn into real friends – it just depends on how you interact with each other and what support you give (and get). I’m grateful for mine!

    But now… onwards into your new sparkling literary career, Ms MFA person!

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      Kathy

      “Ms. MFA person”… I like it! Thanks, Jemima. I agree that online writing communities do have value, and they sometimes lead to real life friendships, but if you look at the raw statistics, that’s a rare thing. Sitting across from a living, breathing human being, sipping coffee with them, and talking shop while looking them in the eye is something that just can’t ever be replaced. Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing to you!

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      Kathy

      Thanks for stopping by, Lynda, and for the congrats. It’s a little nutty, being out in the “real” writing world now. 🙂

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  2. Michelle Wallace (@mishy1727)

    Hi Katherine.
    Congratulations on graduating as a creative writing “master”! That’s an amazing accomplishment.
    Your choice to pay for a masters in creative writing is a personal one and should be respected by others. We all make different choices to suit our individual needs/wants.
    Yes. I agree with you that it’s all about the people we meet, the relationships we form and the communities we build. It cannot be done in isolation.

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      Kathy

      Thanks, Michelle. It’s an interesting topic to broach with other writers. To MFA or not to MFA. Lots of strong opinions. I know I made the right choice for myself, though. Have a great day, and happy writing to you!

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