And again. From the beginning, maestro! Remember the Maine! And, better still, remember Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour rule,” which states that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in anything will lift you to professional status.
Of course, that claim has since been debunked, but pretty-sounding studies (and the power of repetition) give anything legs, even since-disproven rules, so run with it, writers, for this reason and this reason only: Can 10,000 hours of writing hurt?
I didn’t think so.
That’s why, this morning, as I curate my next manuscript of poems anxious to get out into the world (“Whoa, Nelly! Not so soon!”), I start from the beginning.
What’s 10,000 hours of rereading every poem, after all?
What’s 10,000 hours of revising every poem, after all?
Now you may argue that a manuscript needs more eyes, and that may be—depending on the eyes.
Now you may argue that having famous poet slash professors in an expensive MFA program as those eyes is the only way—and that may be, too.
And you may argue that being a protégé of such a professor slash poet means the poet slash professor has a personal stake in your success—and who am I to argue?
All that said, it remains debatable when aspiring writers use young or new poets’ published books as evidence of all of the above. I speak of the infamous Acknowledgments Page, where all manner of star “insider poet” names are thanked for their tireless and selfless help.
How does this advantage even happen in a fair world, you ask? And whatever happened to the truth held self-evident that all poets, lettered or not, are created equal? (Thank you, Mr. Jefferson!) And would buying those three expensive letters (M, F, and A) really mean the difference for you?
No, no, no. Those 10,000 hours can serve in stead of the poet slash professors, and you could come out of a letter-less nowhere, of course. You’ve just got to believe. Or kid yourself at the very least. Or push on no matter what.
For 10,000 hours. And if that doesn’t do the trick, for 100,000 hours.
And, since you asked, I have no idea who’s tracking these hours. It’s the honor system, Jones.
Write. Revise. And again. From the beginning, maestro! Remember the Maine! (And forget that it sank.)
2 thoughts on “Scoring an MFA in 10,000 Hours”
I’ve lost ACTUALl friends over my on-going objections to MFA programs. I think they’re a scam and a cash cow for universities. I don’t doubt the poets who claim how wonderful their MFA experience was. I just believe similar benefits are available without shelling our big money for a useless degree. Aspiring poets can meet together in informal FREE workshops, or, if they want something more professional, get together and hire a good local poet to facilitate their workshop.
What I most remember is the three or four recent University of Arizona MFA grads coming to me each semester when I was Wrt Department Chair at our local community college, begging for just one stinkin’ class ($2000 a semester without benefits) because they couldn’t find a full-time teaching job. As Satan’s Anal Polyp might say, “sad!”
Yes, for every wildly successful MFA writer (shepherded by a poet slash teacher of renown), there are hundreds upon hundreds who never make it to the big time. (I’m making those numbers up, but feel fairly confident….)