I don’t have an MFA. I have a masters….in education administration. Occasionally, I will wonder if I shouldn’t do some kind of low-residency program, just to see what-all I don’t know. But that sounds depressing, not to mention time-consuming. How many Raymond Carver short stories can a person read in one lifetime? Probably a lot.
As far as I know, they don’t offer MFA degrees in upmarket women’s fiction, and that’s really all I want to write. So I got my MFA the old fashioned way. By spending the last 35 years of my life in an in-depth genre study. By the time I was in my twenties and considering becoming a writer (for the first of many times), I read everything I could by Anne Tyler (Ladder of Years), Anna Quindlen (One True Thing), and Barbara Kingsolver (The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams). These authors taught me what a crystal-clear sentence sounded like, and that I wanted to write them too.
By my late twenties and early thirties, I’d discovered Jodi Picoult (Plain Truth), who taught me about plotting and pacing, and Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed) who taught me how to write characters that people love. Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones) taught me how to write humor (I’m still working on this), and Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) taught me how to write a dual POV and multiple timeline story that will blow your mind. Anita Diamante (The Red Tent) taught me how to write the relationship between mothers and daughters, and Deborah Harkness (Discovery of Witches) just took me on a really fun ride since I don’t write fantasy or historical fiction, and her books are both.
And in between these landmark mentor texts, I read and read and read. Great books, amazing books, and terrible books I couldn’t even finish. Every single one taught me something about writing, something about the kind of writer I wanted to be, or didn’t want to be. Could this have been accomplished in a MFA program? Absolutely. It probably would have cost about the same amount of money. But my way, I could spend weekends on my couch, instead of in a too-cold classroom with no windows and hard plastic chairs.
Will I ever get a MFA? I don’t know. I’d rather keep learning the way I’ve been learning…one book at a time.
The Ones We Choose is available for pre-order!
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