Why I Decided to Get an MFA

Two more months and I’ll have completed my first year in Pacific Lutheran University’s low-res MFA program in Creative Writing (fiction). Super excited.

I often get asked about the program–What’s it like? Why’d you choose it? Why low-residency?–all the questions I asked when I was trying to decide 1.) if I should pursue an MFA, and 2.) what kind of program would be best for me.

After writing a lengthy response to a post by Scott Clemons, I decided to blog on the topic. Also because I read TONS of blogs about creative writing MFAs before I made my choice and feel an obligation to throw my experiences into the mix.

Here’s what happened to me…

I spent more than a decade working obsessively in the field of communications (which is like the capitalist cousin of creative writing), and decided I was sick of it and needed to take a break and write for myself. I also wanted to be a more-present mom, volunteer more in my community, and get back into reasonable physical shape.

So I spent nearly a year writing and “soul-searching,” but was forced to go back to work part-time because of the cost of health insurance.

Meanwhile, my husband wanted a job change. We started doing some financial planning.

ASIDE: I realize that I am VERY lucky to have the opportunity to not work during a time when so many are suffering financial hardship. Don’t get me wrong, we’re making sacrifices. But the fact that we CAN make it on a single income is something for which I remain extremely grateful.

First, I read blogs, articles and institutional ratings (mainly at The Atlantic and Poets & Writers, which honestly, weren’t that helpful). I researched instructors and their work (per the recommendations of MFA blogs and folks like Seth Abramson), but then reality crashed down on me. I’m not twenty. I have a family and we can’t just pick up and move so I can go to grad school.

What options did that leave?

I considered just taking writing classes at a local college, but that didn’t feel right. So while I hemmed and hawed, I began attending a community writing group (free), started my own writing group (free), held a reading event at a local bookstore for a writer I liked (free), and wrote my ass off (free).

Then I attended some writing workshops at cool places like Hedgebrook and Centrum. I realized I had potential.

I’d read about low-residency programs, but it wasn’t until I took a road trip to the University of Utah and met with an old professor of mine, Lance Olsen, that I decided to pursue a low-res program seriously. We discussed my lifestyle needs and the fact that I worked well independently and he suggested I find a top-notch low-res program. He said many of the PhD candidates they were admitting had come out of quality low-res programs.

That’s when I decided to get my MFA. That I COULD get my MFA. Like, it was possible, and I set out researching low-res programs.

I’ll post again about how I chose my program, but would be interested in how other writers came to the decision to get an MFA. Or why you decided not to. Would love to read your comments or posts!

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