If Kaitlyn Designed an MFA

Background: Kaitlyn Sage Patterson is the proud owner of an MFA in poetry from the University of Memphis. Her thesis is a collection of poems that no one should ever read ever. EVER. Kaitlyn has not written a single poem since defending her thesis in 2012. Don’t ask her to try. She really doesn’t want to.

I really value the time I spent in my MFA program, particularly the workshops I took there. The voices of my classmates and teachers guide my work to this day. Every time I use a gerund, I hear Jonathan and Michael telling me to use stronger verbs. Every time I use the verb “twine” I hear John Bensko groaning. This is valuable.

That said, I don’t know that it’s $30,000 in student loan debt valuable.

If I were to design an MFA, I would shift the focus of the non-workshop classes away from long-dead writers and focus instead on the thing we LITERALLY NEVER TALKED ABOUT: publishing. You don’t get an MFA because you want to sit alone in your basement writing things that no one will ever read (or maybe you do, and if so, godspeed). Most people get MFAs because they want to publish books.

So why not talk about that process? Why not teach aspiring writers how to write a query, research agents, write books that are the kind of books that are SELLING RIGHT NOW?

I would BEND OVER BACKWARDS to design a curriculum that would prepare writers for the BUSINESS of being authors. (For real though, are you an MFA director looking for a young-ish author who wants to teach writers how to be authors? I am here for that job. I’ve got my syllabi ready to go. Hit me up.)

Because, in the end, even the most excellent prose, the most thoughtfully constructed story, will only get you so far if you don’t know what to do with it. So until MFA programs start teaching you the business, I say save your money. 

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Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

Kaitlyn Sage Patterson grew up with her nose in a book outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After completing her M.F.A., she moved to South Korea, where she taught English and started writing her debut novel. THE DIMINISHED will be published by HarlequinTEEN in April 2018, followed by its sequel in 2019. When she's not staring off into space and trying to untangle some particularly troublesome plot point, she can be found in her kitchen, perfecting the most difficult recipe she can find; or at the barn, where she rides and trains dressage horses; or with her husband, spoiling their sweet rescue dogs.

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