There are some degrees that seem to elicit controversy for some reason (I mean really, who cares if someone wants to get a certain education), and an MFA in creative writing is one of these such degrees.
I’m not saying it’s right for everyone. You have to decide for yourself what to do with your time, but if you’re a writer and you want to get better at writing, it’s a wonderful way to go.
As someone who very recently earned her MFA, I thought I would share a few reasons why it’s one of the best things I could have ever done for my writing life.
1. My Classmates
Some of my best friends in the world came out of this program. They are not only awesome, amazing people, they’re writers and book nerds who’ve shared the same experiences with me. They’re heard what I’ve heard, seen what I’ve seen, and been where I’ve been. They are my book-made-into-movie-going friends, my best sources for what to read, my first line in texts when I have book hangover, and are absolutely indispensable critiquers. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re an incredible support network. You’ve seen some of them here on my blog and I’ve been on theirs because that’s just how we do. :) Here’s Amanda’s post, and Rion’s. (The others are still working on getting their blogs up!) Point is. These are lifelong friends and I love them!
2. My Mentors
Would you like the opportunity to work one-on-one with a published author who knows the market and has tons of writing experience? I did! And lots of them! Plus! I still have their email addresses and can contact them if I have questions or maybe need something like a book blurb. It’s always good to know people already in the industry you want to be in.
3. The Discipline
You think NaNoWriMo is hard? Ha! Try working full time, having a family, and still having to mail 15 pages of fiction and a critical review of a book (which means you also have to read) multiple times in a semester. You learn to be disciplined with your time real fast. You have no choice. And after two years of this continued discipline, it’s a part of me. Even if I have non-writing spells of a few months now that I’m done with school, as soon as I get an idea or start outlining and then writing, the discipline comes right back and I can get a lot of work done because of it.
4. The Seriousness
When you’re querying and trying to stand out in the publishing world, it helps to have the MFA listed in your bio. It shows you’re serious not only about writing, but about learning and growing as a writer. Obviously, your work has to hold up, but it does give you a nice little bit of credibility before they even read your work. When I tell people I’m a writer, some think that = hobby. But when I say I have an MFA they know it’s something I am deeply passionate about, and it’s not just for fun or just in my spare time.
5. The Experience
I’ve been to Ireland twice. I’ve met authors, heard them speak, and have shelves of signed books. I’ve gotten practice and instruction in giving public readings. I’ve grown a skin so thick through critiquing that words as sharp as razors can’t scratch it. I’ve laughed and cried and watched writers get falling down drunk (It’s much more entertaining when you’re the only sober one). I’ve seen plays, eaten uber fancy meals, explored exotic places, and done/gone to/seen/experienced things I never would have had it not been for my MFA program. Oh yeah, and I got plenty of writing experience, too.
6. The Learning
When you listen to something like 80 different writers talk about writing, you learn a LOT. I’ve heard so many different perspectives on things. I’ve learned techniques and styles and been made to consider things I never would have otherwise. Writers have talked in those classrooms about things I’ve never heard writers talk about elsewhere. So much of it was about the true art of writing, which sometimes gets lost when we’re talking market and audience and craft. It still is about art. And I learned things about myself and the art or writing that you can’t learn from reading a blog or a book about it.
7. The Bragging Rights
It’s an accomplishment! Any degree is. And any accomplishment you should be happy to tell people about, and you should feel good about it. Putting in the time and work (and money) it takes to get a master’s degree is a big deal. So, why not make a big deal out of it once and a while?
8. The Continued Connection
Just because my diploma is sitting in my room right now doesn’t mean it’s over. Not all programs may have this, but at Carlow University, I can go back as an alumni to all the seminars and readings that take place every residency. Which means, I get to keep on learning. And for free. There are also all the other alumni around. They’re a great support system and information resource. I am always getting emails about new contests and which publishers are accepting submissions. There are also opportunities available to me to be part of things like readings and events. We help each other out and we cheer each others’ success. And cheering for my fellow alumni is a fabulous boost because it means people are getting published and making things happen and I can, too.
I know not all MFA programs are created equal and I have heard some horror stories about levels of competition and malice. That is very unfortunate, but it can happen at any school, in any program. You have to do your research and find the right school and program for you.
Obviously, an MFA is not a requirement to be a writer. Plenty of very successful writers don’t have one. But I’ve heard it said that earning an MFA takes about 10 years off the process of learning and struggling on your own to make it as a writer. That alone is worth the money to me, but the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met are priceless.
I’m sad that my time has ended, but excited for the next chapter (like my little pun there? ;) And I know that it’s not really over. Next January, I’ll be back in the classroom learning from new authors, meeting new writers, and learning new things. And I’ll never stop learning and growing.