This is the third in a series about the book, MFA vs. NYC.
Maria Adelmann decided her job in Visual Merchandising and its okay salary wasn’t worth it. She’d rather go into debt and go for an MFA at the University of Virginia. She got accepted into the program, but from Adelmann’s descriptions, it doesn’t seem like she really should’ve gone. She drank a lot. She had intense writer’s block. She wrote more drafts of short stories than I ever thought possible.
But she lived cheaply. And she met writers…which I think she could’ve done by staying in New York.
Adelmann’s main accomplishment? She painted. She painted pictures of books, then scanned them onto cards and that’s how she makes her money these days, plus the occasional odd job.
This is precisely why most normal people think writers are crazy. Because this makes no sense. It’s one thing to pursue your passion, it’s another thing to go in debt for it, while giving up a perfectly good job to do so. Okay, that’s what Silicon Valley is made of. But for literature? Without creating a sustainable business around it?
The thing I don’t get is how people seem to totally forget that there is some other stuff you can do writing-wise without actually publishing literary fiction. However, this doesn’t seem to enter Adelmann’s mind as evidenced by this:
I tried my hand at the business end of writing, too, submitting to over a hundred literary magazines and contests during my final year of the MFA.
I wouldn’t say that’s the business end of writing; that’s the normal end of literary fiction.
The business end would be trying to set up a website, printing up a journal, creating a small press–all while having another job. Kudos to the n+1 guys because that’s at least what they did, while also trying to get published elsewhere.
Other things? Maybe edit. Maybe write snappy marketing copy. Maybe become a researcher. You know, a job around writing until your literary project gains some steam.
Maria’s story shows more about the privileged nature of those able to pursue an MFA than the MFA itself.
That she was able to quit a great job and go into debt? Most people can’t afford to do that or have family (financially) supportive to help out with that.
In Adelmann’s case, the MFA was used to find herself. There’s nothing wrong with that, to want to learn more about yourself. Most people just can’t devote that much time or debt to do it.
Maybe that’s the point, that the MFA doesn’t necessarily have to be for writing. I just can’t believe it took an MFA to get to this for her, it sounded like a typical collegiate experience really.
What’s an MFA good for? I can’t tell from Adelmann. But she seems to have a great attitude about it.