Considering a Creative Writing MFA: Preliminary Thoughts

Considering a Creative Writing MFA

I’ve been thinking extensively on whether or not I’d like to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Being a year out of undergrad, I’m feeling an urge to be back in the classroom again (something I never thought would happen!).

I’ve been doingΒ some writing this past year, but not anywhere the amount I’d like to see happen. My goal for 2016 was to try and write a short story each month and get it pretty polished. Guess how many short stories I’ve starting writing? About five. Guess how many I’ve finished? Almost one.

In the back of my mind I’m telling myself two contradictory things:

  1. Maybe going back to school will motivate me to finish some work.
  2. How can I get a master’s degree if I can’t even finish a ten page story?

Getting my MFA is something I seem to have a lot of contradictory thoughts about, which tells me I’m probably not ready to make that kind of commitment. I’ve been reading a lot on the benefits of an MFA and different authors and writers who encourage writers to go onto to further their education and authors and writers who don’t think it’s important.

If you’re thinking about getting an MFA in Creative Writing, here are some thing you (and I) should take into consideration:

How much you love to write.
Obviously this is a biggie. You’re not going back to school if you’re only half in love with writing. Writing should be a necessity, one of your daily food groups. If you go through each day without even thinking about writing, maybe it’s not something you’re as in love with as you thought you were.

YourΒ financial situation.
I don’t know about you, but even with a hefty scholarship, I’ll still be paying off my student loans for the next decade. If your drowning in debt, are you really thinking about making another financial setback for another degree? Some MFA programs give out really nice financial packages, but those are sometimes not a guarantee. Do some research and see if any of the fully-funded program strike you as something you’d love to participate in.

Where you are in your life.
At 23 I’m at a point in my life where I have a lot of doors open to me because my responsibilities revolve around myself. I’m in a relationship but we’re not married, I don’t have children, I don’t have a steady full-time job I’m in love with. It’s so easy for me to pack up my belongings and move across the country to start school again. But maybe you can’t do that as easily as I can. Would you be willing to move somewhere? Can you take the time to pause or switch directions of your life? If you’re bent on getting an MFA, maybe a low-residency program would be more your speed.

Obviously this is not a complete checklist, nor is it anywhere near as specific as it could be. But these are the three big questions I’ve been thinking about and ruminating with whenever I think about getting my master’s. It sounds like an appealing opportunity but am I going to be as in love with it as I think I am?

These are my preliminary thoughts laid out in front of me. Where are you in your MFA search or your program? What are some factors you’re taking into consideration? Any advice?


3 thoughts on “Considering a Creative Writing MFA: Preliminary Thoughts

  1. I entered a Creative Writing MFA program back when I was 23. It was a mistake and here’s why; Though I felt like I had done enough research, in retrospect, I should have gone to the actual school, visited, and met the department staff BEFORE signing up for the program – because if I had done this, I probably wouldn’t have entered the program at all.

    But I believed the websites, short e-mail/phone communications, and information packages were enough to figure out if the school was a good fit. I was wrong. I moved states for the program, determined to “prove my passion” through the MFA because I’d been writing heavily for the past year. At the time, I had around 5-6 novels with 2 that were finished. The program was low-residency (the limited time never allowed for conversations to get to the depth I expected and wanted, while the off-campus forum discussions that were supposed to make up for it were a sad joke).

    I quickly found out that the program was a glorification of a small Writer’s Group with a heaping dose of making-students-feel-good-so-they-keep-paying-tuition with faux ingratiating manners… I also found that many students didn’t actually write that much! Many of them had A story or A book that they were working on (singular) and more cash from non-writing jobs (and family) than they knew what to do with, so might as well get a MFA. Others hardly spent any time writing and more time going out to bars to drink. So, I didn’t fit in, lol.

    Someone like me, who pretty much uprooted everything to go into the program, who naively had a head full of dreams about amazing critiques that would elevate my craft and about colleagues who would create riveting discussions on the nature of writer themes and meaningful connections that would last for years… the reality was immensely disappointing. The staff was barely able to guide me and hardly seemed to know anything about the craft of writing beyond requiring the purchase of the Strunk & White stylebook. The department strategy didn’t focus on writing, but instead on networking to seem sociable in the localized industry (which usually included drinking wine), in hopes that someone might like you enough to traditionally publish something of yours.

    I wanted to find a program that would challenge my craft, not challenge my common sense, lol. So, I dropped the program after the end of the first quarter when I realized it was nothing like it’d been advertised and was costing a lot for very little return. If I could go back to when I was 23, I would change my decision to pursue that MFA. It’s been one of my bigger regrets in the last years. I would have been better off joining an /actual/ writer’s group that didn’t put me into debt (the debt from a single MFA quarter was about 3x my entire debt from my BA).

    There’s so many shared books and free resources, especially online, for writers… I would never recommend a Creative Writing MFA to anyone. Getting a Creative Writing MFA is 100% unnecessary. I will reserve that not every program is the same…cuz idk, I only have my own specific experience. So, advice for pursuing it anyways would be to MEET people for more than a quick chat, get to know the department and their motivations for being there before committing to anything! Even sit in for a class or two, if allowed (which it should be imo). Find authors who proclaim that they have MFAs from the school in question and see what their publication history looks like, what they’ve been doing, and what kind of success they have. It’s interesting research.

    Most of all though, my advice for someone who really wants to return to school would be to find a program in a different field that you’re also passionate about (engineering, philosophy, anthropology, etc.) and let it inform your writing. Likely, you’ll continue writing and working on your craft because that’s what writers do – in school or not.

    • Dominika, thank you SO much for taking the time to write all this!! This was so helpful to hear, and a really great perspective and something I never thought about all that much. I really appreciate your advice. I’m definitely no where near ready to even apply for programs, so any type of testimonials of MFA programs is helpful. What are some things you’re doing now to keep up with writing? Are you part of a writing group? I honestly think I big part of it for me is struggling to find time to write when I’m balancing other jobs that aren’t writing related.

      • You’re welcome. I’m glad my response can be helpful. As for your questions, I made my wordpress blog to help manage awareness of my writing process and the progress I’ve made and will make. It gives me a place where I can study and define my relationship with the craft of writing and guide my direction for future projects. I, also, keep up through notebooks – so many notebooks – that I update as often as possible. I am not part of a physical writing group right now, but I participate in virtual writing groups – especially NaNo and Camp NaNo, as well on the general WordPress community like right now. There are also some critique sites around like Critique Circle too. I still want to find a physical writer group that suits me, but the closest possibility that I’ve found is about 1.5 hours away so once I get my car working again, I might make an effort to get to a meeting.

        If it’s finding the time to write that you’re struggling with, that’s something that can be figured out. Even scheduling 10-20 minutes in a day to write can help carve out that time. I don’t know what your other jobs are, but I sneak writing in when I can – always keep a couple pens and a pencil about and a bendable small, cheap notebook to scribble ideas and scenework in. I’ve written on napkins and paper towels with a marker before while in a pinch at a job… I’ve written on a cardboard box and definitely on receipt paper. If you want to find time to write, I’d suggest multi-tasking and writing during the slower parts of a job. If it’s a job that requires your complete attention though, then I’d suggest going for the strategy of writing 10-15 minutes before work and 20-30 minutes after work because I’ve heard that sometimes goes well for other writers. I forget the author’s name, but he had a full-time job and got up 2 hours earlier than needed to write during that time and then 1-2 hours in the evening before he slept – the author had a number of novels published so it seemed to work for him. But the act of writing is kind of similar to exercising, it’s not about finding the time – it’s about making the time.

        And if you’re looking to get student loans as a way to not worry about making money while having the freedom to focus on your writing, I’d return to my prior comment and suggest looking for a program in a different field (like anthropology, etc.) that would expand your horizons and teach you some very interesting things while you work on writing! πŸ˜‰

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