Garrison Keiler

Skip the MFA in creative writing, Andy. It’s a scam run by English departments to fatten their coffers and doesn’t do you much good except as a social club (you can find better ones elsewhere). You’re apt to find star faculty who never teach and a whole lot of semi-published writers doing the teaching and the prevailing culture is one of mutual flattery. You waste two years hearing people tell you how wonderful you are and then you graduate and find out that nobody wants to read your stuff. If you want to write, sit down for a few weeks with the most gripping book you’ve ever read and analyze it to a fine hair—how it’s organized, the structure, the time sequence, the characterizations—and then set out and write something similar. Don’t turn up your nose at genre fiction—which MFA programs tend to do. Learn how to write a workmanlike novel. And if it doesn’t get accepted for publication, no problem—go on and write another one. You’re young, you have plenty of time. I wish I had done this when I was your age instead of drifting along on my own whims. Writing is a craft and you need to learn the craft before you can think about yourself as an artist. MFA programs start out by spraying genius aroma on you and that does nobody any good at all. It’s a classic pyramid scheme. Don’t go there unless there’s a teacher whose feet you long to sit at and even so, don’t inhale too deeply. And learn to spell “pastime”. – Garrison Keiler

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