An MFA Won’t Save Your Writing Career

T.S. Lowry

But it can buy you time.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

I enrolled in an MFA program in 2016 to escape a dead-end job. It ended up being the most fulfilling two-year span of my life.

Fast forward to 2020 and I’m no closer to receiving a book deal. But I have made the switch from content writer to pop culture writer, a proclamation that I'm happy to ... well, proclaim.

Some writers might believe an MFA will save their writing careers, but, really, it might only buy them time.

I understand there are exceptions — because there are always exceptions. I didn’t attend a top-rated university. I applied to a no-residency program that I could get accepted to fast so I could quit my full-time sportswriting job even faster. Some people, not to mention, do get book deals while (or after) taking MFA classes.

Of course, there’s a reason why people say MFAs are a waste of time. I’m not one of those people — I just don’t think an MFA is going to guarantee success in creative writing.

An MFA can help make you a better writer and build writing habits. But nothing guarantees success in writing. That’s kind of why your friends and family members give you a funny look when you tell them you want to be a writer, musician, painter, artist, or any type of creative.

Some writers make it, or at least get their start, because of who they know. Others struggle to even get a piece published.

I understand people cringe at the words student loans, but they’re a hell of a lot better than credit card debt since you don’t have to pay them back immediately and the interest rate is lower. They’re better than not having enough money to pay your bills. You also don’t have to pay back student loan debt while you’re enrolled in school.

Sure, racking up more debt sucks, but so does working at a dead-end job, dreading every day, and being miserable for the rest of your life. Getting out of bed in the morning to go to work shouldn’t be the hardest part of your day — and it’s not courageous … it’s insanity.

Having two years to work on your writing is a blessing, especially when you spent the previous years working at a soul-sucking job that thrived in clickbait. That wouldn’t, however, have been possible for me if I didn’t take out more student loans.

I spent 2.5 years reading and writing fiction and non-fiction while building my freelance content writing business. At times, I made good money (maxing out at around $7,000 in a single month) and was fulfilled because I was consistently writing short stories and reading one to two books a week. It wasn’t all a vacation as I burned out all the time and typed my fingers raw.

What I really enjoyed about my program was that I dabbled in different genres, from screenwriting to fiction to non-fiction. My manuscript was a collection of short stories and it felt good to write a book from start to finish. I got an itch for non-fiction (mostly personal essays) toward the end of my program and now that’s all I want to do. Write personal essays, that is.

While I say I didn’t receive a traditional book deal during or after my program, one of my clients (at the time), who’s a celebrity entrepreneur, paid me to ghostwrite a book. That book didn’t lead to anything bigger (just a paycheck), but it felt damn good to pretend like I was a real book writer. And you know what? I kind of was. I was, after all, paid to write a book … it just wasn’t under my name and also a nightmare to work with the unresponsive entrepreneur.

The pressure was off while MFAing. I didn’t need validation. I wasn’t worried about making more money, pleasing friends and family members, or placing a book on a B&N shelf. Now, that’s all I think about.

I also wasn’t settling as I was growing my freelance business and writing more fiction than I ever have in my life, as well as reading through stacks of books.

I didn’t know what would happen upon graduation (unfortunately, nothing, other than building reading and writing habits), but I gave myself the joy and pleasure of writing and reading for two years. I bought myself time. My program was also relatively cheap for graduate school and MFA standards. Those two years were worth every penny.

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Just a guy who likes to cruise the aisles at the local 7-Eleven

Los Angeles, CA

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