To MFA or Not to MFA?

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > To MFA or Not to MFA?

And what about that MFA? The truth is that nobody can teach you how to write. An MFA program might allow you to write, but it will not teach you. But allowing is the best form of teaching anyway. There is no school but your own school. There is no one particular way. As a writer you will always find your place. This does not disregard any one method at all. So, revere the university program if that’s where you end up. The great advantage of the MFA is that you will find a community there. But some writers only need a community of one. So, revere the cabin in the woods if that’s where you end up. Revere the shithole apartment. Revere the fellowship. Revere poverty. Revere the inheritance. In the end nothing will matter but the actual word upon the page: it does not matter if it came from an MFA or not. Chop it, edit it, lose it. Harness it again. Find yourself a person who knows these things, be it colleague, friend or enemy. Find a teacher. But the best teacher will know that she is not teaching you at all. What is there to do, then? Be guided by others who have failed – and failed willingly – before you. Give your teacher a break. Be generous to his failings. So, go the MFA program if it feels right. But don’t expect some writer to write upon you. Go there to mess up. Go there to fail. Go there to find a community of readers. Go there because you’ll be even more mystified at the end of it all. Go there because all this matters. But one word of advice — don’t go straight out of school. Give yourself a couple of years in order to live your life. And live that life out loud. Live it dangerously. That way you will have something to write about. That way you will destroy the blank page when it stares back at you.