Michelle Wittle On MFA Programs

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Now that I am done with my MFA, I feel like I have more authority to talk about MFA programs and what one really can gain from being in one.

Most people enter an MFA program because they think by the time they are done, they will have a complete and publishable manuscript. Some even think Random House will be knocking down their door looking for their completed thesis.

If that happens to you, consider yourself one lucky son of a bitch.

For most of us, getting an MFA does not equal guaranteed publishing.

I think the purpose of an MFA is not to validate if a person is creative or not, but to teach a person what kind of writer he or she can be if he or she is open to everything.

I went into my MFA program thinking I would be a great novelist. I swore off poetry and playwriting never crossed my mind.

I had my first reading at my school and I was truly honored. I was in the program for only a few months and I felt like it was a true honor to be asked to read at a public reading. At this point, all I had was a novel (poorly written I will add) and some Creative Nonfiction pieces. I read my creative nonfiction piece.

I bring this up for two reasons. In that audience sat two women who would reshape my MFA path and my career as a writer.

The first is a fantasic poet. This poet read a poem that was the most romantic poem I’ve ever heard in my life and it was on the strangest of subjects. I figured if this poet could find love in urine, I should probably suspend my fear of poetry and take the class.

The second woman would become my thesis advisor. She is a Jacklyn of all trades: playwright, short story writer, poet, and visual artist. After taking this woman’s summer acting class, I remembered how much I loved the theatre and I ventured into her playwriting class. Five months later, I wrote a full-length play and a thirty-minute play which became my thesis.

If I didn’t keep my eyes open and if I didn’t have these options open to me, I would have missed out on writing poetry and plays. Those two genres have shaped me as a writer in ways I still haven’t been able to fully grasp.

That is why people shouold go to an MFA prgram. School allows you the opportunity to read other genres you might not thought you would be interested in. School gives you a place to safely  explore writing in a different genre.

I went into grad school thinking I would be a fiction writer exploring what I wanted for my life rather than what I have in my life. Instead, I walked out of the program comfortable writing in all genres and knowing my truth strength as a writer comes from dialogue and how I see the world, not what the world has done to me.

Maybe Random House isn’t knocking on my door, but I do see myself as one lucky bitch because I opened myself up to learning new things and I’ve come out a stronger writer. Isn’t that really what we all want for our writer selves?

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2 thoughts on “Michelle Wittle On MFA Programs

  1. This is one of the reasons some MFA creative writing programs are set up so you cannot write merely in your own ‘genre’ – University of British Columbia’s MFA program insists you study at least three. Great post. And as someone with a highly impractical degree in English, I’ve always thought university wasn’t about job preparation but about teaching you to think and allowing you the freedom to study what you love most for a few years while exposing you to a community of scholars. I’d take a few different courses if I were redoing it now, but I was lucky enough to attend a liberal arts college that insisted we take at least three courses from disciplines other than our majors. So maybe math at the university level without a textbook wasn’t such a great idea. Still, I survived.

    1. I’m lucky I survived Statistics as an undergrad!
      No textbook? Oh my Gosh!
      Thank you for your kind words and your insight.
      All the best,
      Michelle

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