Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Do You Need Formal Education To Become A Writer?


I could answer the question of whether writers need formal education in a number of ways

* Simply, no.

* Yes, if you also want a degree to teach writing.

* Yes, if you can’t seem to motivate yourself (though, there are less expensive ways to gain motivation…).

* No, if you’re a maverick.

Of course, all those answers could spark endless debates.

Which brings us to a debate that’s been raging since February

It involves something Ryan Boudinot wroteThings I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.

I’ll share the bullet points from that article in just a bit

Ryan formed a non-profit to promote Seattle, Washington, USA as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The Board of that non-profit quit after Ryan’s article appeared

In a parallel article—I Was the MFA Student Who Made Ryan Boudinot Cry—,by one of the people alluded to in Ryan’s article, it says:

“Few people realize that Ryan fired his hotshot New York agent, sold his next two books to local independent presses, and sank almost all his personal savings into founding Seattle City of Literature.”

There are plenty of other articles, on both sides of the issue

My take on all of this is:

Rayan was a bit “forthright” in his article (yet many other folks admit to the things he said about MFA writing programs…).

The parallel piece by his former student had quite a few other good things to say about Ryan.

And, we do live in a Contentious Society—hardly anything can be said in public fora without a “war” breaking out

So

Let’s look at those bullet points in Ryan’s article (and, if you’ve managed to read this far, do, please, go read what he says for each point):

* Writers are born with talent.

* If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

* If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

* If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

* No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.

* You don’t need my help to get published.

* It’s not important that people think you’re smart.

* It’s important to woodshed.

In case you’ve never run across the term “woodshed”, it means “A private place, out of the sight or hearing of others, used to practice…”.

I’m really hoping a few of you will share your feelings and thoughts in the Comments—whether or not you’ve experienced an MFA-in-writing program
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13 responses to “Do You Need Formal Education To Become A Writer?

  1. philipparees July 31, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    You may not need formal education to write ( although you will need alternatives, like an appetite for books and a dogged persistence, and a driving love of using words) BUT if you want to win poetry prizes it sure helps and it helps even more if you teach in one!

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai July 31, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      Hmmm…

      Formal education just to win a poetry prize, eh?

      Hmmm…

      Like

      • philipparees July 31, 2015 at 4:38 pm

        A jaundiced comment based on the biographies of poetry prize winners. After all if you teach poetry writing your students are worth a lot of entry fees? Sorry, that’s the way it seems! So many competitions are based on lucrative entry fees.

        Like

        • Alexander M Zoltai July 31, 2015 at 5:23 pm

          Well, Philippa, I, personally, disdain contests…

          Like

          • philipparees July 31, 2015 at 5:32 pm

            I have succeeded with short stories and felt that affirmed confidence a little. Poetry never and never again!

            Like

            • Alexander M Zoltai July 31, 2015 at 5:38 pm

              I have a short story book and another on the way. Also, I published a book of poetry

              Friends have urged me to enter contests—I am resolutely averse :-)

              Like

  2. Mike July 31, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Well, we have the counter-examples of Jack London and Ray Bradbury. And I will confess that my MA was probably more of a hindrance than help. My head was full of strange notions of “Theme” and “Symbolism” and such that had to be purged by a slew of rejection notices before I learned to write honestly and simply.

    Like

    • philipparees July 31, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      ‘Honestly and simply’ need anything else? Or better?

      Like

      • Alexander M Zoltai July 31, 2015 at 5:25 pm

        I must say, no, Philippa…

        Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai July 31, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      Well, Mike, you’re in good company—even the likes of Francine Prose recommend living and reading over “being educated” in writing…

      Like

      • Mike August 1, 2015 at 10:42 am

        Couldn’t agree more!

        I suppose the only “rule” you can derive is that each writer creates their own rules. Look at folks such as Emily Dickinson, Lovecraft, Robert Howard, or even Clark Ashton Smith – these were virtual shut-ins with incredible imaginations.

        Then again, look at Hemingway and Jack London – would their tales have ever been written if they had not had their adventures? I doubt it.

        Like

        • Alexander M Zoltai August 1, 2015 at 10:52 am

          I agree with all you say, Mike; and, as far as “rules”, my favorite is from C. J. Cherryh:

          “Never follow a rule over a cliff.”

          Like

  3. Pingback: Further #Education for #Writers ( and, anyone else… :-) | Notes from An Alien

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