This Is Not the MFA You’re Looking For

A couple of weeks ago, I began to seriously consider an MFA at Goddard College. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the school, Goddard is a small college in Plainfield, Vermont with a reputation for being on the bleeding edge of liberal study. Just my style. =) The MFA offered there is a distance program with required on-site instruction one week each semester and welcomes writers from all corners of the industry; from poets and screenwriters to hardcore genre writers like myself. I’ve considered it often over the years, usually when I’m feeling the need for a boost in my writing skills, but ultimately I’ve always decided against it for various reasons.

I’ve decided against it again, probably for good, but the decision-making process has been fruitful for me. I’m the clearest I’ve ever been about my needs and goals as a writer. I’m also clearer about my place in the writing industry, the strengths and weaknesses of my first novel and the direction of my second and subsequent novels. Much of this clarity came from filling out the application itself, which requires the applicant to self-evaluate her writing skills. In doing so, I uncovered my technical inadequacies and was able to plan a self-directed course of study to address them. But I also spoke with an admissions counselor several times, a man I came to like very much, who broadened my perspective of the industry in general. Because I’m a classic introvert and, therefore, not a very social writer, it’s easy for me to view the unfortunate elements of the speculative fiction community with a more sharpened focus than they merit. He helped me to see that these exist everywhere in publishing, for which I’m strangely grateful, since it means they live in every writer’s basement and not just mine. Together, these things have led me to see my writing and my first novel in ways I couldn’t before, and that’s invaluable to me. Let me be clear. I still have good reason to continue marketing my first book. But I also have other ways forward now that I didn’t before.

At 44, and after nine years writing for pay, it’s frustrating to begin a second book when the first hasn’t sold yet. I’m solidly middle-aged, and while that doesn’t bother me in the abstract, any successful writing career I build will occupy the waning half of my life. I can’t escape the feeling that I should have gotten farther by now and that I’ve invested too much time in worldbuilding and editing my first novel. There is also the reality that many authors have succeeded much earlier in their lives and have longer careers ahead of them. But what can any writer do in the face of those things but keep writing? I’ll have the career that belongs to me, and I’ll have whatever time the universe has allotted me to cultivate it. I can either mourn what I don’t have or celebrate what I do; a good hand with words, some great ideas and the freedom to cultivate them. That’s more than many writers ever have, MFA or no.