"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Becoming A Master

Ever consider going for your MFA in Creative Writing? I have often thought about it. A friend completed hers about three years ago and swears you must have one to survive today. I have another friends who does not have an MFA and will proclaim just as loudly they are a waste of time and money. Neither are published as of yet.
If you are considering one, here are five things to keep in mind:  
1. Education – Furthering your education is always a good idea. You’ll be around other writers who can inspire, motivate and teach you. The more people you can get to read and critique your work, the better you write. You will have a built-in support team. However, if you are more concerned with story-telling and not so much about details on how the story is told, you probably will not like literary writing courses. They tend to focus on how the story is told, its language, and not always the story itself. This is not always true. Some MFA programs do offer paths in genre fiction. So take a look at the classes required and offered as well as who is teaching them before you decide.
2. Time - Most MFA programs (specifically for creative writing) are studio programs that focus on writing. This means you spend a lot of time meeting deadlines for writing, and then work-shopping what you’ve written. This provides blocked times when you are away from your job, family and friends. If you are looking for a specified refuge to work on your writing, a writing program might work.
 3. Agents - Some MFA programs are watched by literary agents. Some universities are renowned for producing great writers. Agents are looking for writers they know can produce. Iowa and Arizona are supposedly at the top of this list. 
4. Cost – You are buying experience, credit and prestige when you obtain a Master’s in a university. Your degree can cost between $10,000 - $100,000 depending on the school. Each degree and university is different, so make sure to look at the cost before you enroll. Some MFA programs do have stipends and assistantships where you can teach to get your tuition paid. You can also apply for loans just as you did for a Bachelor’s.
5. Career Goal -  An MFA will aid you in teaching at a university or in a writing program. It’s also the next step to getting your Ph.D. If you are interested in teaching at a university, an MFA is ideal. This especially applies to poets. Poets generally find it pretty hard to make a living writing poetry, so teaching is one of the best options. Also, ask yourself if you could improve without the program. If your ultimate goal is to become published, many do so without the aid of a university. You can get a lot out of online courses, workshops and conferences, including meeting writers, agents and getting critiques of your work. MFAs are like any degree you get in the humanities, there is no guarantee. It might not get you a book deal. It might not get you published. It might not even get you a teaching job. See: http://www.webster.edu/~schustjm/creative.htm and http://www.awpwriter.org/careers/khilgeford01.htm

Being in an MFA program will not “hurt” your writing. It will change your writing, and it may not tailor changes to the genre you love. Ask yourself the right questions. Don’t let others discourage you. Don’t let anything stand in your way. If you feel you want an MFA degree you shouldn’t let anything stop you. For every author out there who could not find a job or hasn’t written a best-seller, there are just as many who have achieved their goals. Many writers do very well with a creative writing degree, just as many do so without one. Make the choice that is right for you.


Summer Ross said...

Really great advice, I'm currently working on BA in English, I applied for my masters this semester.

Sylvia Ney said...

Summer - that's great! Good luck and keep us posted on how it's going.