I've been wanting to write this post for a while and since I'm starting back to school today, I figured why not now.
There's a lot of debate within the writing community about the usefulness of writing classes, MFA programs, etc. I have to start off by issuing the standard disclaimer: Everything I say here is based on what's worked for me. What works for you might (and probably should) be different.
Many, many moons ago, I graduated with a BA in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. I always wanted to write, but I lacked the confidence to really give it a go. However, once a friend of mine started writing a novel, I thought why not. So I started writing seriously about a year after I graduated from college. That first novel, well, let's just say it's better off where it is. In a box on the top shelf of my closet.
Anyway, in spite of the complete terribleness of that first novel, I kept writing. I found a writer's group at my local library and attended faithfully. I even had some stuff published. Nothing big. Just small presses, an article in the local newspaper, and some adoption related articles.
I really felt like I needed to move my writing to the next level. Also, I needed a reason to put my writing first. My kids are 5, 4 & 4 and we're leaving for China in about a month to adopt a 12 year old who doesn't speak a word of English. Plus, I have Crohn's disease which rears its ugly head at the worst times. Add to that the therapy and general craziness of dealing with our daughter, Grace, who is autistic & developmentally delayed and the expectation from my employer that I actually work now and then, and something had to give. For the past several years that something was writing. If I let anything slide, it was writing. I kept figuring there would be time later. But the thing is, there wasn't. There was always something else to do, someone else needing my time.
So when the college I graduated from started an M.A. program in English, I talked it over with my husband and signed up. On the one hand, it has added to the craziness of my life. I still have my job. I still have all of the kids. And unfortunately, signing up for an M.A. program is not the cure for Crohn's. At first, it seemed like I just added more work to my already busy life. But it was work I enjoyed doing. I was with other people like me. People who get excited over libraries and understand the value of spending a Saturday afternoon at the bookstore. It fed my soul. Something I haven't done too long.
Also, it pushed me. One of the classes I took was an advanced fiction writing workshop. I had to write. A LOT. I wrote all the time. I revised all the time. And I came up with three short stories that I believe are very good. Of course, I have to give credit to my professor and the rest of the class. I lucked out and had an AMAZING professor and a GREAT group of students in class with me. The critiques I received helped me see flaws in my work that I hadn't noticed before. It made my work stronger.
I learned to cut out everything that wasn't absolutely essential to my life. T.V. went. Unfortunately, non-school related reading went. Cooking elaborate meals went. I cut all of the excess out of my life. And I accomplished A LOT. It even carried over into the holiday. I started my current WIP the week before school ended (not my best idea!) and I should be finished with the rough draft within the next 2-3 weeks.
I don't think I would have accomplished any of this without being in the M.A. program. Now it might not work for you. You might be amazingly disciplined, but I was not. This might not be the typical thing people expect to take away from a writing program, but it's exactly what I needed.
If you're considering going to school, just taking a class, or going back for a higher degree, my advice would be to figure out exactly why you're doing it. And then, if you think it's for you, give it a shot. It might be exactly what you needed.