I just graduated with my Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing from the University of San Francisco on Friday. The ceremony was a quick one, as they broke it up into three separate ceremonies based on academic schools, but the ceremony was the pomp and circumstance that follows the two and half years I spent learning, ingesting, absorbing, reading and then finally utilizing on my thesis.
And it's true...just because I have a graduate degree in the subject doesn't make me a better writer than anyone else. Innate, natural talent can't be taught or learned, it simply is. But what CAN be taught and/or learned are the tools necessary to make one a better writer. How each individual receives and uses these tools is completely up to them, but for me personally, I came out a far stronger writer than when I arrived in July of 2009.
A good portion of this is derived from my own particular passion; I wanted it bad enough to succeed on my own merits and via my own drive. Writing a book isn't something you can do overnight (not a good one, anyway). It's a grueling Sisyphean task that requires you to be your own worst critique while knowing when to pat yourself on the back accordingly. There are plenty of excellent authors who don't go to graduate school to learn more about their craft and they write excellent books. I needed the education. I WANTED the education because I knew it would only make my writing stronger.
Technically, you can put a price on an education, but I don't even flinch at what I paid for my last two and a half years of sitting through lectures and workshops every Tuesday and Wednesay night. I hustled to get where I am, as did everyone else in those classes. Overwhelmingly, I could tell that my professors hustled to make sure we students got what we were paying for in spades. Damn near every professor I had was engaged in my progress as a writer and as a critical reader and more than a few of them were uncanny in their ability to see through the haziness of our writing to see the real nuggets we were going for and just didn't know it.
So no...getting an advanced degree doesn't necessarily make you a better writer, but damn if it doesn't help. Thanks to the USF staff and to all my classmates! I wish you all the best of luck in every endeavor. Best two years of my life thus far and I wouldn't change a damn thing about any of it other than wishing it had lasted longer.
(The author, a raging writer and drinker, is on the far left. He is more than willing to sign your cleavage if you mistake him for someone famous or already published.)