I’ve blogged somewhat on this topic before of how I’ve always loved creative writing and decided in 8th grade that I wanted to be an author. Somewhere along I convinced myself I needed a “real job” so I majored in journalism. Eventually I began to feel less enthused and added another major–not English or creative writing–but Global Studies and a certificate in Religion and Conflict. I thought I wanted to be international, travel, talk about current events, be the token Muslim intellectual that blows everyone’s minds out of the water because she’s intelligent, eloquent AND Muslim. I care about humanitarian issues, human rights and community development so it all made sense in my head to pursue this path.
But now, as I finish my third year of college, I can’t help but still feel unsatisfied by my college career and where I’m heading. I can see a lot of exciting destinations for me based on what I’m doing, but all I seem to feel is stress when it comes to preparing myself to get there. Shouldn’t the journey be what’s more fun? Shouldn’t the journey be what you enjoy the most?
When I think about the journey I care about the most, all I can think about my writing. I never had any doubts or regrets or felt like it didn’t mean what I wanted it to mean to me. Sure, I chickened out and thought I wasn’t good enough to declare myself a creative writing student. I thought I should study other subjects to make myself well-rounded and I could always go to grad school for creative writing.
But I’ve visited several MFA degree websites and am really frustrated by how elitist and exclusive they are. ASU’s program, for example, says you should have majored in English or Creative Writing, but if you didn’t then you better have a hell of a portfolio to show them. They also accept just 3% of admission :O
And then let’s talk about teacher recommendations. I have zero connection with the creative writing or English program, so I’m getting nada from them. None of the professors that I do have good working relationships with, have any idea about my secret love for fiction. They all think I’m going into public relations, nonprofit or international development work, which based on my classes and activities, makes absolute sense.
So here’s the thing. Some writers have been writing their whole lives, get undergrad degrees in English or Creative Writing and are all set to do an MFA after they graduate.
Others study other subjects, go out and work, realized nothing makes them as happy as writing does and so they decide to go back to school and get an MFA. Many of these people are really crappy writers and think everything they write will be gold/the next Harry Potter/Oprah’s favorite book. Some of these people are geniuses with latent talent that never got to be developed because of fear or other circumstances.
I just don’t see how these MFA programs are encouraging people from all walks of life who maybe, didn’t have the privilege to study creative writing or for whatever reason, discovered late in life what it is they wanted to do. I have the grades, I have the work ethic and I do have a decent portfolio, but because I wasn’t in school for creative writing, I wasn’t rewarded for working on my novel or short stories. I couldn’t afford to spend all my time writing when I had articles, essays and books to read for my two majors. I joined the undergrad literary magazine with the honors college and had barely any time to keep up with my position as a fiction reviewer, because of the crapload of homework I had to do. Where are my priorities?
Now I know some of you will say, “You don’t need to get an MFA! It doesn’t mean anything! It’s not going to make you a writer or a published writer at that!”
I understand and acknowledge that. But if I’m going to pursue higher education, then I want it to be something that gives value to me in a way that I denied myself all these years. Maybe I’ll be a teacher who specializes in English or ESL and runs a creative writing program after school on the side. Is it crazy that I would absolutely love to run a nonprofit program like that, working with high-achieving, minority or refugee students and inspire them to write and publish their own work, while I handle the management, PR and fundraising, while writing my own stories? I think I’m getting a little too Freedom Writers here, but bear with me.
I have one year of school left and then I’m a graduate from ASU. I’ll be out in the world, armed with two bachelor’s degrees, theories, skills, hopes, fears and a dream deferred. Let’s hope one year from now, I’m not still the same pathetic, woeful person I am at this moment. Let’s hope I get it together, rein in all my passions, block out societal expectations and embrace my true nature.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
Thanks for getting through this word vomit.
Update: Here’s a list of underrated MFA programs according this guy on HuffPo. Worth checking out.