When I was accepted into the MFA program at the University of San Francisco in 2004, I was offered a merit scholarship as further evidence that I should definitely — definitely — be going to graduate school for my writing.
But then there were the kickers.
For one, I was going to San Francisco (I don’t like San Francisco). Two, I like the sun and wouldn’t be getting any. Furthermore, I had to transfer my full-time job to our company’s San Francisco headquarters to make a living (my alarm was set at the cruel hour of 3 a.m. every day to get to work on the city bus system in time for market open back east). And — in addition to moving in with two strangers and having no friends or family out there to lean on — my best distinction as a Coloradoan coming from a mile above sea level down to the cold slap of the Bay was that I could drink everyone under the table for the first two months I was there. And I’m not even much of a drinker!
After a week-long panic attack following the realization that I had made an astonishingly bad decision, I quit the program before it even started, settled down to lick my wounds, and then — lo and behold — started to write. And ended up writing the majority of a novel during my time there.
All my blessings to the faculty and staff of graduate-level writing programs. Best wishes to the dedicated students who complete them and go on to produce great work. And yes, not everyone has the same clumsy experience I did.
So the question is really less about getting an MFA in order to advance a career, but more about your intentions around your writing. Some people need the program as a next step; others find a desk and a chair and do what needs to be done on their own time.
I was the latter. All I needed to do was write.
(Dedicated to my eventual SF friends, who made life during those almost-seven months sweetly bearable: Anne, Carolina, Cheryl, Eliza, Elsie, Geoff, Ingrid and Jason.)