10 Mar 2016

The Costs of Being a Writer

*Originally published in MQR, January 22, 2016

“Think about the opportunity costs,” my brother told me, “in getting an MFA.”

We were on the phone: he in his Midtown Manhattan bachelor’s pad; I, in a 1930s-era split student housing in the Midwest. To put it into context, this was going to be my second MFA in creative writing—many would’ve thought one to be enough, if not crazy enough. It’s not an education that, to borrow another term of his, has good ROI. My brother has that other kind of degree acoustically close but fundamentally (and most often than not, aggressively) opposite: an MBA.

“Don’t just think about the stipend you’re being offered,” he continued. “Think about the amount you’ll miss out by not being back in the workforce.”

To put it into context: I am not financially inept; I have student loans, yes, but no credit card balances; I live frugally, cook my own food, limit my spending; I’m not one afraid to use coupons or to patiently wait for markdowns; I’ve previously saved up money from working as a paralegal at a Big Four accounting firm. To put it into context: I’m a responsible adult—or at least that’s what I’d like to think.

Several months into my new MFA program, and pondering on my longer-term plan, the question of what it takes to survive as a writer is heavy on my mind again. What are the economics involved in being a writer? Continue reading