To MFA or Not to MFA

This week, Amazon is offering The Portable MFA in Creative Writing for free in the Kindle edition. I have had my eye on this book for a little over two years, right after I completed my MA in Creative Writing (and MLIS in Library Science) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Among academics and non-academics, alike, there is much discussion concerning the MA/MFA/PhD in creative writing–between the degrees themselves (which one is best? the most useful? which one will make me sound like I rock at life during family Christmas dinners?) or simply not obtaining a degree and pursuing an education of one’s own via critique groups, attending conferences, and independent reading/writing. So where do I stand on the debate?

Honestly, I’m Switzerland. And not just because they have amazing chocolate.

Yes, I did pursue the academic side of the debate; however, I have amazing friends/colleagues who chose not to. And they are really cool people as well as amazing writers. So, I can’t really say that my choice was better. I can say, though, that there are definite pros to receiving an MA/MFA/PhD in creative writing.

1. Community. Pursuing any kind of writing degree automatically links you to an immediate critique group, especially if you are enrolled in a writing workshop. Plus, there are the spontaneous critique groups made up of various circles of close friends/connections that you meet while attending graduate school. Because I am a community freak (probably because I attended Cornerstone University–community buzzword central), the community side of obtaining the degree is a definite plus for me. Seriously, I heart people.

2. Feedback. The feedback that you receive when you are in pursuit of a degree in creative writing is stellar. Not only do you have a classroom full of colleagues/friends who are writers, but you also have published professors who are commenting on your work. Granted, critique groups outside of the collegiate realm can have some pretty stellar commentors as well, but you never really know for sure… unless you have developed the group yourself and placed certain guidelines around who can join (i.e. only people who shower every day, or only people who hate wearing thongs, and by that I mean underwear not what you wear on your feet, as much as I do).

3. Resume. So, say you actually have to make a living in this world by doing something besides writing. You know, you were planning on a billion sales of your book, and you only sold a million, or something crazy like that. Well, having the degree on your resume can make you look pretty cool to your employers. Or it can make you look like a kiss-@$$. I’ve heard both. I’m going with the it makes me look awesome.

4. Because I hate cliché lists of 3, I am going to add… Parties. Seriously graduate school parties rock. For realzies. And sangria at graduate school parties rocks… sometimes a little too much (Blog post on that later. On the other hand, probably not so much).

One definitive reason to not attend graduate school: IT COSTS A WHOLE FREAKING LOT. (Unless, I’ve been told, you attend one of those awesome PhD schools that actually pays for your education. Seriously, you go there… teach a few classes… and WA LA! Free school! Well, there is the slave labor that you have to participate in… but other than that–FREE!)

So, what do you think? Graduate school or not graduate school?

What if you got one of these along with your degree:

Seriously, you wouldn't get a degree in creative writing for one of these? Really???


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chazley Dotson (@chazleydotson)
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 01:39:43

    Aw, I’d do it for the puppy. But without the puppy, I’ve had the same debate. I have my MA in English Literature and Language, and after that, I swore that I’d had enough of education. I can spell now and use a semicolon to great effect. Mission accomplished.

    But sometimes, I think about it, especially the MFA at the University of Texas, which comes with free tuition and (unbelievably) no slave labor. They got some spectacular grant money and insist that whoever is accepted drop everything else in life and write. For free.

    But what really turned the tables for me is that I’m not a literary writer, and I assume (again, just an assumption) that they focus on writing of a mainly literary style, whereas if I take two sentences to describe how someone looks, I delete one of them during revision. I want action and a good heroine and just a smidgen of romance. I want someone to be eaten alive by an animal or thrown from a moving train. That sounds violent, but I cannot endure books that do not get to the point.

    So I suppose I should get to the point.

    I would pursue an MFA if I thought it would help. But I don’t. I think it would send me back into that “Do I want to be respected as a writer?” vs. “Do I want to write fun books?” spiral, and I’m past it. Finally. Mostly. But I’d still like an MFA.


  2. sarahjoyliteraryagent
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 17:28:04

    Yes, a lot of MA/MFA/PhD programs are focused on the more literary side of writing. However, I know of several mainstream writers who have attended those schools to specifically focus on improving their language–and it has made them better overall writers. But, sometimes professors get cranky because you don’t focus on being literary. It depends. I would say if you can do it–have enough time, aren’t too worried about snobby professors/colleagues looking down on you, and can do it for free, go for it. It’s a great experience. You might get some great short stories out of it.

    However, like you said, do you really need it? No. 🙂


  3. tamarapaulin
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 20:21:27

    The decision was made easy for me because I don’t even have a Bachelor’s. 🙂

    Welcome to blogging, Sarah Joy! I came via Betsy’s blog today.


  4. Sarah LaPolla (@sarahlapolla)
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 16:04:13

    Since we’re visiting each other’s MFA posts… 🙂 I totally agree with all of these points. MFAs are not for everyone, but there are tons of benefits.

    @Chazley – I talk about this a bit in my post (, but just wanted to say that you don’t need to be a literary writer to benefit from literary fiction. I write YA & enjoy genre fiction, but there’s so much to be gained from looking at a literary side, even if you don’t write it yourself.


  5. Melinda Viergever Inman
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 15:18:35

    Thank you for putting up this info about the free book. Looks intriguing. It’s now on my kindle. Can’t wait to dive in and and pick the brains of the New York Writers Workshop. No puppy necessary. No slavery required. 🙂


  6. Trackback: Schubert Solutions » Blog Archive » MFA-IL
  7. Trackback: MFA-IL : Crystal Schubert

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