Do You Need a Fine Arts Degree to Become a Successful Writer/Author?

I got an e-mail from a company called Self-Publisher’s Showcase, a company which says it aims to be a “very affordable promotional assist.” They appear to be a real company but you can decide for yourself if you want to use their services,though a look at their “About Us” section shows that none of them has a background in book publishing though their founder, Paul Martin, has a background in social media for professional use (as do I, for the record). I don’t know about Paul but you can count on me to give you social media advice for free and if you subscribe to my blog you’ll always be the first to get new social media and personal branding strategy tips.

The e-mail itself was not directly towards me, so I think I’m on someone’s list, but I don’t mind. Anyway, the website had a guest post which I wanted to talk about. Kevin J. Villeneuve is one of their “showcase” authors and in late October he wrote a post titled, “A Note to Young Aspiring Authors” (me!) which I just got but wanted to note. Here’s the passage which stood out to me:

“So what advice can I give to young, aspiring authors? Don’t get published for the money. Sure, it’s an amazing feat when someone pays you six-figures to write a book, but there are many ways that you can pay yourself to write. If you’re getting into it for the money, go get a master’s degree in literature, find a job that pays you to write, and hope that someday a publisher approaches you to write something bigger.”

Look at the second bold point. I thought it was interesting Kevin seems to think getting an MFA (Master’s of Fine Arts) is the ticket to success. Writer’s Digest seemed to think so this time a year ago. I assume this is because one has access to the professional critiques done by creative writing professors. Now to be fair I have never had a single class in literature or book writing, beyond freshman English class. This is an interesting topic which I’ll explore more in the future. But I don’t think one has to have an MFA to make it big.

It is nice to have feedback from others though I will note Chuck Sambino’s opinion from Writer’s Digest about this:

“Criticism: You might scoff, thinking you don’t need this (MFA), because you’ve lucked into a supportive, insightful writing group. Terrific! But friends, seeing how much work you’ve put into that manuscript, often hesitate to be critical. They want to be encouraging, so they’ll suggest changing scarcely a sentence. Not so in an MFA program. Red ink will cover your pages. You’ll gape in despair as you realize that, yes, your writing is crap. The advisors will encourage you, but they’ll be brutally honest about how to improve your work. This is why MFA programs are so expensive. The faculty isn’t comprised of amateurs who dabble at writing and coddle your ego, but of professionals who bring a cool eye and a scholarly approach to teaching. You’ll be exposed to smart and sometimes stinging criticism, which can be hard to take, yet is crucial to any serious writer.”

If you have an MFA or something similar, or have attended a serious writer’s course on writing, share your thoughts. Is an MFA or similar degree worth it? Or is it a waste of time and money?

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