Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worthwhile? 7 Writers Weigh In

Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worthwhile? 7 Writers Weigh In

Many writers wonder if pursuing an Master’s in Fine Arts in Creative Writing is worthwhile.

For many, it could mean finally workshopping a manuscript in an academic setting, networking with faculty and staff or just kickstarting the manuscript in the first place.

However, in the writing world, the question is an extremely polarizing one.

Some encourage writers to pursue this path, others disagree, and the rest are smacked right in the middle.

To gain some better insight, I asked some published writers to weigh in, including those outside of the traditional creative writing realms.

1. Identify your end goal

To pursue her goal of publishing a novel, immerse herself into literary culture, and satisfy a crossroads moment of her life, Jordan Rosenfield decided to apply for MFA programs. Now, as a MFA graduate, she’s a freelance writer and an author of seven books.

She emphasizes for knowing what you want before enrolling in a specific program.

“While it hasn’t made my career path to publishing novels any easier, it certainly improved my craft, and my critical eye and opened doors in other aspects of my career,” she says. “If you plan to teach, I think in a related field, an MFA is essential, but if you just want to improve your craft, you can do that through online courses and weekend workshops for a lot less money.”

Heather Meyer, a comedy writer and playwright, decided a low-residency MFA would broaden her network and increase her skill set while still working in theatre.

“The low-res allowed me to that without having to move or quit gigs I really love,” Meyer says. “That’s what this program trained me to do: to live and work as a writer.”

2. Think about the way you already write

Senior communications professional, Robin Kurzer, originally pursued a dual MFA/MA degree to prepare her for teaching fiction in a college setting. However, she realized she romanticized the idea of an MFA.

She didn’t enjoy her program’s strict adherence to a specific way of creating art.

You needed to sit in a certain fashion, approach each and every writing assignment in the same way,” Kurzer explained.

After getting rejected from every top program she’d heard of, Joselin Linder, a professional writer of over a decade, moved to New York and immediately began networking. Because she networked on her own, she advises against an MFA, unless of course tuition is free.

“Set your own deadlines or use your writing group to set them and use any money you would’ve spent on an MFA to travel and explore,” she stressed. “Go to events where agents and editors meet-and-greet with writers. Take classes you find online or in your town to help you write and learn how to sell it. Go to free book readings and launches. Bartend or work on a boat for two years to pay for your life, and consider it ‘research.’”

3. Understand a program’s risk, no matter what

Rachel Charlene Lewis, now the founder of the Fem and editor-in-chief of Vagabond City Lit, felt constantly frustrated because her classmates attempted to transform her writing into “black, gay ‘voice of a generation’ as if it was a complement and not a basic form of tokenization.

While she’s unsure whether to advise other writers on pursuing an MFA or not, she stresses that no matter how much extensive research you do, you’ll never predict how well you’ll work within your cohort and with your professors.

4. Consider an alternative academic path

Deviating from the traditional creative writing graduate programs, freelance writer and Romper news writer, Annamarya Scaccia graduated with a Master’s in Journalism.

Ultimately, the decision was financial because she couldn’t afford expensive workshops, residencies, or retreats in order to grasp new skills. Now, she’s tailored in news writing, investigative research and more.

“As a trained journalist, I know exactly what goes into crafting an article, from research to reporting to writing to editing,” Scaccia mentions. I know the exact steps I have to take to investigate an incident or track down people hard to find. I know how to spot the lede, structure a story, etc.”

Following a slightly different path, book publicist and writer, Alaina Leary will receive a Master’s of Arts in publishing and writing in this spring. Her college career, which involved upper-level nonfiction and fiction courses, exposed her to journalism and professional writing. For graduate school, she want a more business-oriented curriculum.

“I learned the basics of magazine, electronic publishing, and book publishing as well as honed skills in editing, publicity, marketing, freelancing, graphic design, social media, video and audio editing, business management, innovation and entrepreneurship,” Leary elaborated. I can now confidently talk about the process of promoting a nonfiction book as much as I can about social media management for an online magazine.”

After hearing from seven different voices, there is no easy, right-or-wrong answer to getting an MFA or not.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you want in a program and how much of a risk you’re willing to take. Additionally, it’s important to consider the path you’ll take if you don’t pursue one, too: could you better use that grad school money toward other ways to reach your goal of becoming a writer?

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6 comments

  • Neil Larkins says:

    Thanks for these views. Very useful. Incidentally, when I was a kid (I’m 72 now) I heard the phrase as “smack dab in the middle”. Guess it’s morphed over time.)

  • Edward Hicks says:

    I thought your article one sided, it sounds like to write you have to go to college, well; i am DISABLED! and if i apply or go to college i lose my disability. Now there is a story.

    • Brande says:

      Edward,

      There are plenty of DIY MFA books that you can use instead of enrolling in a program and you can always join an online writing group for the workshop feel. There are plenty of people who love writing but can’t afford to undertake the cost of a degree.

  • Edward Hicks says:

    Hi, the way i now look at things is that i will write my own way, read what i like, learn what i can and just do it. there is way more to life itself then getting a degree, and i plan to be myself. Thanks…..Ed

  • Brande says:

    I initially had this conversation with one of my professors in undergrad. I was unsure whether I should pursue an MA vs a MFA. One element that I didn’t see in my quick skim of the article is the fact that the MFA is considered a terminal degree.

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