If you are contemplating applying for graduate school, the new, appropriately-titled book Should I Go to Grad School? might be helpful. James Franco's essay in it is definitely not.
Franco, who has attended a litany of MFA programs (including Columbia's, from which he graduated in 2010), apparently did not learn in his years of study how to convey any insight he might have gleaned. Though the "mature" actor is quite adept at blathering on in vague, stupid generalities about grad school:
I went because I had spent years as a professional actor and as a mature student of everything else; I wanted to treat my other interests with as much seriousness as I did my acting. Since at one point I had been a mature actor who worked hard and became a professional, I thought I could do the same thing with other fields.
So, should you join a fiction writing MFA program?
With regard to fiction programs, the first thing to consider is that most of the students (if not on scholarship) are paying anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year to learn a profession that isn't going to pay off soon, even if they do get a book deal right after school. The second thing to consider is that writing is a solitary activity, so you shouldn't expect much collaboration with your peers. After classes, students go home and write stories so they can bring them to class to be workshopped. While workshops get criticized a lot, they do allow one's writing to be read critically and talked about. Even if the feedback is worthless, a writer's work changes if the writer knows that it is going to be read.
Hm. That reads as literally just a description of every writing program in human existence: MFA programs cost a lot, you usually write alone, in college you do homework. Useful!
So what about film school? Should I apply for film school, James?
Film programs, on the other hand, are collaborative: All students work on each other's films. Everyone rotates roles: In one production you're the director, in another you're the cinematographer, in another you're the boom operator. This makes each person invested in his or her classmates' work, unlike in writing programs, where the writer stands alone. In those programs, classmates give each other what is ostensibly constructive criticism, but the situation is still basically one against all.
As lovely a recreation of the back of a brochure that was, how about art school? What masterworks await me?
Art school is different. It's more like film school. There is more collaboration in art school than in writing programs, though the projects are less structured. It's harder for people to criticize each other along conventional lines because the art world has shattered into so many different kinds of practices. Because writing and narrative film programs usually teach traditional approaches, those programs have firmer criteria for what is "working" and what isn't.
In summation: MFA programs are different from film schools, which are different from art schools. So should you go to grad school? No. Don't go.
[Image via AP]