The art of writing should be an even playing field.
As it stands right now in early 2017, there is a logical debate going on between critics of the Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) and those who support it, believing it has a place for anyone pursuing a writing career. There are many articles for or against the MFA but as an objective viewer watching the debate from afar, does it really matter?
For example, I enrolled in an English creative writing class in college over thirty years ago which allowed you to write whatever you wish, only to face stern criticism as you read your piece in front of an unsatisfied professor and other students with writing experience not afraid to state their opinion. The first two short stories I submitted were met with less than a positive response. The first story was of my own creation, not written for the class. The somewhat ambiguous ending in their eyes prompted a lot of probing questions that did not live up to their standards. The second short story I wrote exclusively for the class was a bit more polished and grounded in reality but again, it was deeply scrutinized by the professor and classmates who did not found it appealing to their taste. While I submitted the first two short stories, one I wrote strictly for myself but wanted to share, I wrote another story I had finished a year prior as a personal creative venture. It was a literary project I wrote for myself. It was not meant for the class so when I read the first four pages of what I wrote in print as an eleven page tale, the reaction based on the tension I interjected between two of the main characters caught the ear of my professor who wanted to hear more. My classmates with a critical eye could not find anything to gripe about. I was pleased for once I wrote a satisfactory piece that I felt like writing and not because I wanted to give a good impression to my professor. With that third short story that is a short story I created for myself, it allowed me to move forward and write the short stories I felt like writing without the influence of my professor or critics. Could you imagine what would have happened if this same professor told me I needed a MFA to be a ‘serious writer’? If I were told that back in the 1980’s, I would have considered it but I feel a degree could not simply replace the hard work, time and dedication I put into creating the best work possible.
Besides, shouldn’t be the effort one puts into their writing that ultimately counts instead of obtaining a degree that a select few, including agents feel is a ticket to success? While this author is not against any aspiring writer working hard to obtain a MFA, those of us who stopped with only a Bachelor’s Degree or even writers without either one shouldn’t be judged on their lack of dedication, drive and motivation. It should be the individual writer’s decision on how far they wish to take their career and creative projects.
What I learned from that creative writing class is that there will always be critics, those who have reservations about your creative projects and those who will simply wish you nothing but failure because in their eyes you will never be good enough or talented enough to meet their standards. As long as you as a writer continue to believe in your stories, do your homework by retaining the literary knowledge to succeed and study other famous writers who have found their measure of success, you will also find the same whether you’ve earned a MFA or not.
Charles L. Chatmon
President, Chatmon’s Books