I am always puzzled by people who want to be writers who think you should take creative writing as a class or enter an MFA program. I mean, I suppose to the uninformed, the whole purpose of creative writing or a Masters of Fine Arts is supposed to teach you all about craft and story structure. That is, I suppose, the logical assumption regarding the course content of such programs.
Well heads up people. That’s not what they teach.
MFA programs are only relevant if you want to write the tight ass fancy literature that no one outside MFA programs actually reads. I mean, if that’s what you’re into, great, but most folks I hear who are thinking about getting an MFA want to write commercial fiction like the rest of us hacks. And most creative writing programs I’ve been exposed to are less about teaching you anything about creative writing (which really seems like an oxymoron to me in the first place) and usually more about the ego stroking of the instructor who believes that if you don’t do it his/her way, you’re wrong. Yeah, I admit it. I am still bitter that the class that ruined my 4.0 in college was not any of the advanced psychology or poli sci or language classes–it was creative writing. With that particular class, if you didn’t write about sex, perversion, or violence, you didn’t get an A. Asshole. I totally plan to murder him in a book someday. I’ll show you violence…
Now if they had classes on scene construction, story architecture, or the steps of the hero’s journey a la Vogler and Campbell, that would have been a useful class. But you’re more likely to find that at conferences or, better yet, in books. There is such a wonderful plethora of books out there on craft that actually do teach you many of the skills you need in order to truly improve your writing. You’ll see many of my favorites listed up top on my Books on Writing tab. Not to mention all the invaluable free information out there via generous people like Larry Brooks of Storyfix and Alexandra Sokoloff.
There’s absolutely NO REASON to spend your money paying for a class or a degree, the grades or possession of which aren’t going to mean diddly squat to an agent or publisher if you haven’t written a good story. And you can read and digest as many books, lectures, and lessons on craft and storytelling as you want–but the only thing that’s truly going to make you a better writer, bring your book up to the necessary level is PRACTICE. You must sit your butt in chair and write. A lot. Often. Daily even. If you don’t practice, don’t work on your craft and your ability to string together words into an entertaining and compelling story, you’ll never see a publishing contract.
So what are you still wasting time here for? Go write something.
I’m actually getting an MFA at the University of Southern Maine with a speciality in Popular Fiction. My first class was actually about the Hero’s Journey. I’ve actually learned quite a lot. I do agree with you though. Nothing improves your writing better than practicing the craft. Personally, I really felt like I needed an organized program of some kind to help me get into the discipline of writing. I tried to find a “personal trainer” for writing to yell at me like the one I have who makes me do push ups but I just couldn’t find one. 🙂
They actually have a specialty in popular fiction?! Color me shocked! It sounds like you’ve stumbled across a program that actually, you know, GETS IT! Good for you!
After a divorce, I moved to Phx, Az to attend ASU’s Creative Writing Program and found much of the same thing–nevermind arguing with professors about the reality of life–and decided to ditch and go on my own. As you’ve said, I’ve found more practical information about the craft in books, conferences, and my personal interaction with recently published authors and literary agents.
I like whatcha got here, this site’s cool and you have shared some great insight about the craft.