Response to Maggie’s "A Proper Education"

Maggie Stiefvater rocks my socks.  I heart her.  Glad that’s out of the way because I’m about to agree and disagree with her a little bit.

Maggie recently blogged about her education to become a writer in a post titled “A Proper Education.”

Some points I agree with, but others I don’t.

Maggie brings up the 10,000 hour rule.  That you must spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert in a field.  I totally agree with her on this.  People who spend the most time working at something will be the people to succeed.  It’s crystal clear to someone who is a teacher: the more time a kid spends on something, the closer they are to mastering it.

Maggie’s big argument seems to be that creative writing programs are not the end-all-be-all of getting a writing education.

“But I think that there are lots of ways to accomplish those [10,000] hours. You can self teach. You can apprentice. You can take classes. You can workshop. You can get a writing critique partner. You can steal someone else’s brain.” 

I agree that all of the above are important to a writer’s education. (Perhaps with the exception of brain stealing–  😛 )

Here’s where I start to disagree:

“I reckon before I post this, I should emphasize that I have nothing against degrees in Creative Writing. If you think you need one to keep you motivated or to structure your education, go for it. But it’s not the way I learn. And I’d wager in some cases it can do more harm to an introverted creative person’s psyche than good. But the most important thing is: they’re pretty much invisible when it comes to getting your book published. Your education, however you manage it, is the process: the book is the result. Agents, editors, readers: they don’t care how you got there, just that you did.”

The whole “if you think you need one” bit comes off a tad on the condescending side.  But knowing that she hasn’t been through a writing program, I’ll try not to hold it against her.

Because I happened to find a writing program that I consider a total blessing.  It has provided me with:

  • A nurturing creative environment
  • Companionship and writing peers that I respect
  • Mentors whose guidance has helped me develop my craft
  • Classes that have stimulated growth in me as a writer because they forced me to stretch myself outside my comfort zone
I know not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars to take college/graduate courses, and I should consider myself lucky that I’ve been privileged to do so.  But I really don’t think I would have grown as a writer as much as I have in the past two years without my graduate program.
I adore my graduate program.  And I do think it’s made me a better writer.
But I will concede some points she made:
  • A writing program could be damaging to someone if they don’t find the right program.  I’ve heard horror stories about elitist writing programs that do more damage than good.  Persevering through that kind of program just for a piece of paper is not worth it.  Especially if you aren’t growing as a writer and having your self-worth as a writer torn apart.
  • A piece of paper won’t necessarily mean you are more qualified.  (Though I do think it will give you some street cred.)  There will be different levels of skill coming out of my program.  One piece of paper for each of us won’t mean we’re all equally skilled.  Your work will speak for itself.  I think that comes back to the 10,000 hours thing.  People who put in more hours will be more qualified, and that includes the hours you spend putting into your coursework.  If you truly take advantage of a writing program, then you do build up hours towards your 10,000.
I know Maggie’s post was not meant to be a personal slight to writing programs.  She just wanted to say that you can become a good writer without one.
But I sincerely wish that everyone could experience what an amazing writing program can have to offer.  I was lucky enough to find a perfect fit.  🙂

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