I get asked this question a lot for obvious reasons. I went to writing school and I’m not afraid to advertise that fact. I’m proud of what I accomplished there back in the mid to late 1990s. The work was hard, but enjoyable since writing and reading were also a hobby at the time, and the students, for the most part, were good, decent people.
Of course, there were some assholes who couldn’t wait to shit on your work as soon as you walked through the workshop door. But many of these same people are history now, not having published a word once they were given their diplomas. Most likely they now sell insurance or have drunk themselves to death. One can only hope.
But at the time, writing school was a necessary evil for me. I had no idea I would actually write for a living. I thought I would live the cush life of the writing professor. You know, write a novel every five years or so, publish it with a small publisher, bang the crap out of my pretty young adoring female students. Seemed like a nice life to me. But in order to live that life, I first needed my MFA.
These days, for the most part, MFA programs are a scam and a sham. They have sprung up all over the place simply because of the demand. People feel like writers when they are enrolled in a writing program. Problem is, after dropping 30 or 40K it’s more than likely they will never see their work published commercially. They might venture to self-publish, now that DIYing it is hot shit. But the work will probably be mediocre and not attract an audience the way a work published by a major publisher could (or a hotshot indie publisher/small press).
But writing school was a good time. I drank like crazy, spent days and nights on speed, fucked like a rabbit, and yeah, got some writing done too. It was an escape, but not entirely. I was there to work hard and work hard I did. I was determined to be a success one day.
Was the experience worth the cost in the end? For me it was. My creative thesis turned into my first full-length power novel: The Innocent (or, As Catch Can). Mind you, the version I worked on at school was very different. The writing teacher who advised me during my last semester suggested all sorts of cuts and revisions, which I did to please him. But as soon as I got back to New York, I put the cuts back in and reversed the revisions. The book was originally bought by Delacorte Press only a year after graduation in a mid-six figure deal, and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. It still sells at bestseller levels today now that it’s on its third publisher in 13 years. So much for writing school advice.
So, do you need to go to writing school?
The choice is entirely yours. You will meet some like-minded people who will be your friends for life, and you will meet some of the most crappy souled assholes in the world who want nothing more than to crush you and your talent. They are the jealous type. You will meet professors who are old and washed up and who will hit on you. But you will also meet some genuinely great teachers who embrace the fact that teaching writing is as much a spiritual calling as the writing itself.
I’ll say it again. The choice is yours. Do you want to be a serious writer who makes his or her living from words? If that’s the case, writing school can teach you a lot. It’s what you make of it. But if you just want a place to escape to in which you can play pretend writer, save your money and sell insurance.