To MFA or not to MFA. That is the question I toy with from time to time. The question at the heart of this blog, in fact. The other day I found myself trolling the website of a prestigious low-residency MFA program. Again. They even accept applicants without a Bachelor’s degree, if they are exceptional. I downloaded the application, a course list, read through student comments then I got to the tuition. It’s not an absurd amount of money. Not at all. In a different life I would probably go for it. But I have this life. A life with a daughter about to be a senior, already embarking on the finding-a-college process, another daughter about to be a high school freshman who wants to go into nursing. So, no MFA for me. Not anytime soon.
I asked myself what exactly attracted me to the idea of entering such a program. Here’s what I came up with: a community of writers; access to excellent teachers/mentors not to mention that the degree itself could open up career doors I haven’t considered yet. Once I thought about it, I realized that I could give myself two out of three. I already belong to an amazing writing group; I keep in touch with members from my old group and the internet provides countless ways to connect to other writers via my blog, shewrites.com and thousands of writing sites. I’ve had the privilege of learning from some amazing teachers over the years and when I am not enrolled in a class or attending a weel-long writing retreat, I have bookshelves filled with mentors that I can turn to again and again.
The most crucial benefit of going back to school is the structure it provides through daily or weekly reading and writing assignments. That has always been the thing I loved about school. The structure that then feeds my discipline. Structure that allows me to push my work to the next level through rigorous writing, revising and reading.
I am currently reading about the importance of writing into a structure. I also believe it is equally important to structure my writing days in such a way that creates a structure for a thriving writing life. Structure is essential to any endeavor. I recently stumbled across an article on drawing and the artist suggested drawing with a theme in mind, that way you create a structure to draw into instead of facing that vast blank page everyday with no idea of how or where to begin.
Since I don’t see an MFA in my future anytime soon, the question becomes how can I structure my days so that I can push myself to the next level in my work? The obvious answer is to write. A lot. More than I am now. Write into a structure. Read into a structure. So here is my plan. For one week I am going to give my writing the time, focus and discipline it deserves. Looking in my calendar, it looks like I can work from 9-12 each morning. Working includes: morning pages, freewriting on my current story, working with a textbook (actually doing the exercises instead of merely reading them), and reading stories with a critical eye instead of just for enjoyment. There are other elements I consider crucial to a productive writing life such as exercise, enough sleep as well as exposure to and appreciation of other art forms. This week I will continue my daily workouts, in bed by 9:30 each night, and play in my art journal for at least one page. I cringe at the thought of not following through on these plans but it is only one week and I have to look at it this way- I am attempting to find what works for me. Maybe this will, maybe it won’t. I’m afraid I’ve lost credibility even in my own eyes but I feel I am so close to breaking through to another level in my writing and publishing and this idea of structure feels like the perfect vehicle to do so.