Should I get an MFA in creative writing?

I really hope someone will see this post and comment openly and honestly. Because I came across this blog started by some ’08 MFA grads and it’s really got me thinking.

I really just want a master’s degree. I could get it in anything. But getting an MFA in creative writing just sounds so fun to me. I work full-time in radio as a morning personality and my writing has therefore taken a backseat over the last six months. I just now started freelance writing again for HalogenTV.com. I usually write general interest-type features. This marks the second time I’ve written about a vegan lifestyle, which is one of my interests. I wrote a “How I Went Vegan” piece years ago for Veg News magazine. (See it here on my Media Bistro profile).

I like writing for HalogenTV.com because Halogen — the cable channel and website — is all about social good. As someone who wrote “bad news” for so long (local, national, and entertainment gossip) it’s really refreshing to write about topics that affect society in a positive way. I’ve done journalism for broadcast, online, and print. It’s a great skill to have and I’m certain it makes me a better broadcaster.

As a morning personality, I have a responsibility to my city to be responsible on the air. If you’ve heard our show, you know we play a lot of music and have a ton of laughter happening every morning. But every once in a while some major newsy thing happens, like the day Bin Laden was killed. And we can’t go on air our normal joking selves on a day like that. It’s then that Journalist Heather Larson snaps to attention and comes on air with proper presentation of the facts so our listening audience is served properly.

So again, journalism is a good skill to have. I wouldn’t get a degree in it these days just because of the job outlook on that. I think now if you want to do journalism for a living you should get a degree in new media or just learn how to make tablet apps.

But really, why get a master’s degree in creative writing? 

It’s probably worse than the bachelor in liberal studies I obtained from Boston University last year! Every time I tell someone I have a BLS, they ask me if I can say, “would you like fries with that?” in Latin. But how many of us actually use the degree we have in our career? Radio personalities certainly don’t need a degree in anything. I know many in my industry who have no degree at all.

So this decision I am struggling to make isn’t about a career move, although I’m sure a master’s degree of any kind can’t hurt a person no matter what their chosen career path is. Wanting to get an MFA in creative writing is about feeding that part of myself that actually liked to attend creative writing class in summer school. As a kid in Scottsdale, AZ, I used to love the long bus ride in summer school in 100+ degree weather just because it took me to my creative writing class. And sadly, it was the only true creative writing class I ever had. I have taken screenwriting at the community college level (twice!) and every English class I could lump into my schedule. I love language classes too (you mean I can sign up for Arabic next semester? Let me just register for that right now). I’m the type who has a box of old journals — a really big, heavy box — stored in the darkest recess of my home. I swear, I will do something with them someday… You also may have noticed you are reading WriterHeather.wordpress.com. Enough said!

So I think my desire to do an MFA program is really about taking my creative writing side to the next level while getting a degree. Is that a good reason to dedicate a huge chunk of time in my life to getting an MFA in creative writing?

Because let’s face it — school is for people who need to be taught. 

I can write creatively on my own. I can write on my own time and figure out how to publish. Anyone can do that. It’s like people who take classes on how to blog… Really? You paid to take a blogging class? All you have to do is open a Blogger or TypePad or WordPress account and get it done. You do read blogs don’t you? I mean, I don’t want to be that person who has to be taught something that can just as easily be figured out with a little curiosity and independence.

But if I enroll in an MFA program, I’ll be around other writers! I’d be in a community, an environment! I’d feel like I was a part of something. I’d feel like I had peers. I’d have professors who would encourage me. Right now, I’m writing in what little spare time I have (like right now, on a national holiday). No one encourages my writing, save for my Halogen editor who is awesome and just doing her job.

Sorry for the long posting today. Thanks for reading down this far! I’m really not sure if I will enroll in the MFA program that has caught my eye. I’m just a year out of BU and still remember all too well how much time and dedication it takes to balance work, school, and life while doing a degree program. At the moment, I really am enjoying lazy Sundays with coffee, a gluten-free bagel with vegan cream cheese and HBO. Maybe in seven more months, I’ll be adding homework to that Sunday morning ritual…

Follow me on Twitter @heatherlarson or leave me a comment here, please!

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An honest mistake in a changing celebrity news landscape

This Q&A with John Mayer by New York Magazine’s pop culture “Vulture” was pretty dang funny, to say the least.  I only happened upon it after one of my Twitter followers sent out a tweet that Mayer had threatened to sodomize female journalists.  As both a fan of Mayer and as a radio professional who has played his records since the beginning, I had to click on the link in her tweet.  As I started to read the Q&A with Mayer, I began to realize the joke, but my Twitter friend hadn’t and instead was upset with Mayer.  She had taken his words literally when he said, “I’m going to forcefully sodomize your editor.”

Here’s what might have happened.

An editor gave her writer questions to ask Mayer that were absurd.  But how absurd are they really?  In an age when what we post online is driven by page views and how much audience we can gain, the NY editor didn’t really make a mistake here.  The Q&A has me blogging about it and, earlier in the week, my twitter pal was up in arms about it.  So that’s two people driving traffic to the NY Mag site.

It seems to me like the editor thought she may get Mayer to say something controversial and newsworthy about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The questions asked seemed like attempts to snag something newsworthy to drive traffic to the site by asking serious questions.  We see TMZ.com do it all the time in their videos.  But the plan doesn’t always work when you ask a celeb a question like this.  Usually, they have no opinion or nothing newsworthy to say.

C’mon, editors, like you’re really going to get well-coached stars to say something to give you a hot story?  Mayer would rather say something smart ass about sodomizing you than take a Nobel question seriously.  He’s got a record to promote, so he’s not going to say anything to piss off his red state or blue state fans.  To me, this just seemed like an attempt to compete with TMZ gone wrong.

We’ve hit the saturation point with celebrity news and gossip.  How are we going to do it differently?

By not falling victims to trends or by copying what everyone else is doing.  But there’s also one vital thing to do.  If you’re going to cover celebrity news for a living, it doesn’t stop  when your 40 hours a week are up in the newsroom.  You don’t walk up to Mayer and ask him dumb questions like he’s a stranger you have no respect for.  Do your research.  And when I say “research,” Google doesn’t count.

You have to live this stuff.

You lifestyle has to be celebrity/entertainment news 24/7/365.  You can’t miss a thing.  Mayer fans know he’s a smart ass with dry, sarcastic, rude humor.  The fans also know he loves to liberally dish out his unique humor to journalists.  The editor and her writer would have known this if they’d been fans, or had at least watched Mayer on some TMZ videos verbally sparring with paparazzi and journalists.  The guy’s current single is about, “who says I can’t?”  Well, what do you think you’re going to get when you hit him up with your tape recorder at a party or on a red carpet?  Who says I can’t smart-ass this journalist chick who didn’t do her homework on me?

I’ve got clients to serve who want news on Mayer’s new album.  I’m not going to waste 2 minutes with him by asking him lame questions.  Tell me about “Battle Studies.”  (She did at least ask about that after asking a bunch of questions that annoyed him.  Way to go to build rapport…)

You never know where a conversation will go anyway.

I talked to Mike Kennerty of the All-American Rejects last week about how the band was getting back on the road after Tyson Ritter had emergency knee surgery.  Somehow we got to talking about a few different subjects, which was really cool and unexpected.  It wasn’t an exclusive; a lot of us got to do press over the phone with members of the band.  So we all had the story about them going back on tour.  But I know I got a couple of other tidbits out of him that will be exclusive to my Westwood One clients only.

I get what I get from people by doing my own thing and not trying to be like everyone else out there.  I treat artists with respect.  In Kennerty’s case, he was calling from London on a day off.  How would you like a bunch of strangers asking you questions for a few hours on end on your “day off?”  Exactly.  This is why you get so much more as a journalist just by being cool with people.

Anyone can put up a blog and start trying to compete with TMZ or Perez Hilton or whomever in online celebrity news and gossip you idolize.  Some of us were doing celeb news before it grew to what is currently is online, which is a massive echo-chamber.  I did it in radio first and I still do it for radio.

How do you do entertainment news today and stand out from the crowd?  How do you not fall victim to the echo chamber trap?  How can you do music news and still compete with countless blogs all writing about the same thing at the same time?  Should we even call it “news” any more?

Disclosure: I am a “New York” magazine subscriber and long-time fan of the online site.  Opinions expressed on this blog do not reflect that of any of my various employers.  I have also bought every John Mayer album I’ve ever had.