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However great a man’s natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

A popular question in the writing world from amateur and professional writers is “should I get an MFA in writing?”

There are programs galore offering this terminal degree; many are unaccredited money-makers that should be approached with extreme caution. There are also some famous ones that would jump-start anyone’s writing career.

The best advice I’ve gotten about this is to ask yourself these questions: Am I interested in teaching writing at the college level? Does my project need 2 years of dedicated attention to succeed? Have I tried other ways to learn about writing and to find a writing community and professional contacts and have had no success?

An MFA anywhere costs money. The general rule about getting any post-high-school degree is “Do I need it for my chosen career?” Higher education is a financial decision. If an MFA will help you make more money (relatively quickly) and the boost in income will make the loan payments more than manageable, do it. But there are many roads into Writing Town. An MFA is no guarantee that the degree will get you driving down Successful Street.

I personally would love to attend writing classes and get the help with my novel. Financially, though, it would be a poor decision for me. Also, I live in a big city and there are more than enough MFA’s looking for teaching work (for which most get paid a pittance). An M.Ed. in Educational Psychology and a B.S. in Psychology from major universities, both of which I attained years ago, will have to be sufficient for me. The financial debt (even if I had the time away from mommyhood) wouldn’t be justified.

It takes more work and self-discipline, but I am finding a writing community, and writing (slowly) in a bubble until I get my novel finished and published. I’ve heard around Writing Town (of which I am on the outskirts) that a writer needs to write her first novel on her own, but after that, resources open up. It’s the “foot in the door” conundrum. I joined a writer’s group a few years ago from which I gained contacts, and I attend local writers’ events and conferences. I read a lot about the art of writing, and try to practice that art everyday. Next I will try to start a book club for writers.

There are many roads into Writing Town. How will you get there? Some jump-start an MFA-mobile and (with luck) zoom in. Most of us just have to walk.