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To MFA, or Not

As someone who is wrapping up my MFA studies (January is coming fast!) I’ve had several discussions, recently, about the pros and cons of a formal study of creative writing.

First, let me say that I’ve been really happy with my decision to go after my Masters of Fine Arts via the low-residency program at Queens University of Charlotte. I’ve worked with some amazing writers (Jonathan Dee, Jenny Offill, Naeem Murr, Ann Cummins, Fred Leebron, and Ashley Warlick) and I’ve learned valuable things from each of them. I’ve also learned a lot from my fellow MFA candidates and I feel like my writing has really matured the last two years. It’s been a time of exponetial growth. I’m walking away with something like 160,000 words of fiction (split almost equally between a novel-in-progress and short stories) that have been workshopped, critiqued, knocked around, and come out better for it. I’m also walking away with the confidence to teach others many of the same things I’ve learned, and push forward into the next phase of my writing life.

But, it does seem to me that the question, “To MFA, or not?” is a valid one for many people. It is a big committment of time, resources, and energy. In order to get the most out of it, you have to be willing (and able) to put everything you have INTO the process.

So, when someone asks me, “Should I get an MFA in creative writing?” my first response is always, “What do you want to do with the degree?” There are other ways to improve your writing, so I feel like the reasons to go the formal, MFA route have to be significant for the MFA to be the best option. Here’s the list I came up with:

  1. You want to teach creative writing: This is probably the BEST reason to go after an MFA. In order to teach others, on the college level, you typically need a Master’s as your entry-level degree. Getting an MFA doesn’t guarantee you a job teaching, of course, but it is almost always a requirement of such a position.

  2. Your current work field wants you to have an advanced degree: Some employers want their employees to have an advanced degree. They may pay for the classes (or part of them) or give work time for study. If someone else is paying for the degree, or otherwise making it easy for you to take classes, that’s great.

  3. You are at a point in your life when the additional expense is not as important: Let’s face it, there are times in life when $30,000+ is more daunting than other times. Fresh out of college, $30,000 in additional schooling can seem much more scary than if you’ve worked for 20 years, pulling in six figures.

What it really comes down to is this: What do you get from an MFA program?

  1. Time to work on your writing. (Motivation)

  2. Focused learning. (Increased skill/Growth of your art)

  3. Deadlines and expectations. (Motivation, Experience)

  4. Work with other writers. (Community, Opportunity, Networking)

  5. Experience taking and giving constructive, helpful criticism. (Feedback)

  6. A degree. (Credentials, Opportunity)

There are other ways to achieve the first four (if you are dedicated and focused) but the fifth one is where an MFA program sets itself apart.

If anyone has questions about looking for an MFA program, finding the right program for you, or exploring other options, feel free to drop me a line in the comments section, below. I love chatting about the program at Queens, answering questions about the process, and generally chatting about writing. Have a good week everyone!

P.S. For other MFA-related posts on my blog, you can check out the MFA Highlights Page.

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