Whether An MFA In Creative Writing Is Right For You: Pros, Cons, & Other Options
As a published writer, I often get messages from aspiring writers who are recent grads and looking for advice. They want to know what first steps to take in their post-grad life. Do they intern for a publisher? Do they join a writer's community group? Do they read all the Knausgaard books and hope to absorb his genius through osmosis? Or do they turn around and go right back to school for master's degree in fine art for creative writing?
As someone who battled with weighing the gravity of each other those paths for a long time, I have a lot of lengthy opinions and arguments for each path. The short answer is that there is no universal answer. Different programs and paths are good for different writers. It depends what your work ethic is, it depends what medium you want to write for, and it depends what you want out of your professional life. Not all writers want the same thing, and the differences between platforms are vast and varied. Because there are so many options, it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel immobile with ambiguity.
When you finish your undergrad degree, it can feel like every step you take is locked in cement and that your life is as vulnerable as glass. And understandably so — you just spent at least four years working your butt off and you want to make the most of it. But indecision can be crippling, and no steps forward tend to be steps backwards. These are a few things you should consider when toying with the idea of an MFA in creative writing:
When Getting An MFA Is A Good Idea
If you need assignments and a group of like-minded friends to motivate you to be inspired to write, a master's program in creative writing might help you write that story you have in you that might otherwise have just sat around in your head for years and years. If you need the routine of a class in order to unlock that creativity, an institution is going to be the best place for you to become the writer you're meant to be.
If you think this might be the case for you, do some research first and look into all of the teachers. Make sure that before you apply to any programs, you have classes in mind that you want to take and that you've talked to at least two people who went to school there to see what they thought of the program. These days it's easy to find people online, so this shouldn't be a problem.
In addition to this preliminary research, make sure you consider the financial obligation and that you have a back up plan for paying back student loans (if needed). You can't rely on your writing career to blossom upon graduation. Make sure you're willing to take on odd jobs that pay well, if need be. Also make sure you're OK with the possibility that an MFA won't make it any easier for you to find a job or get an agent or sell a book. Make sure you have a realistic goal, like using the program to complete a manuscript or experiment with different genres and mediums.
When Getting An MFA Is Unnecessary
If you do your best writing when you're alone, stick with what works. Not everyone needs external inspiration to motivate. If you have a schedule that leaves room for working on your writing projects, and you have friends who are willing to give you feedback on your work, you might want to just stick with what you're doing. Really ask yourself what it is you want out of a program, because you might be able to further your career on your own time. If you have a strong network of friends who are in the publishing industry and you have friends who give you valuable and thoughtful notes on your work, there's really not much else you need. One of the biggest reasons aspiring writers join MFA programs is to find writer friends and to be given a structure to help them produce work. If you already have these things, you're golden!
How To Give Yourself A Continued Education
If you want to continue your education but can't afford it or don't have the time for it, you can give yourself a DIY version of it. Make a list of books to read based on the MFA program you're interested in and give yourself a schedule to work your way through it. You can map our your own curriculum based on your own goals! For example, give yourself a daily writing minimum. Whether it's 500 words or 50 pages, stick to it. If you need prompts, check out creative writing websites that offer them and let that be your "teacher". If your goal is to write a full manuscript, give yourself a deadline and get there. This will take a lot of self control, but if you're passionate about it, you'll get there.
Other Ways To Become A Professional Writer
Check your local listings for poetry nights, reading series, and open mics. These are great events to go to if you want to meet like-minded people. You don't have to have an MFA to perform at a reading, so you might want to sign yourself up and use the opportunity as an educational challenge. You'll also want to find your closest book store and stop in to talk to them about author events. This is a great way to network and forum for you to ask professional writers thoughtful questions that might guide you in your career.
Getting involved in internships in your platform of choice is also hugely important. It can be very hard to get a job in the exact place you want to work, but it can be easier to find an internship in that same place. If you're so inclined, you can start a meet up group or a workshop circle of your own — ask your local bookstore if you can advertise on their message boards. Having a group of people who you can share work with is key.
And most importantly: read, read, read. The best way to become a writer, is to read other writer's work. Understand the market. See what's out there. Get a sense of the genres. Understand the dimensions of plot and the different ways different authors approach it. Expand your mind, inform your own writing, and keep submitting until your work is accepted. It's all about trying.