#WriterWednesday: To MFA Or Not To MFA, That Is The Question

“Can a serious, ambitious writer get by without an MFA?,” a fellow writer asked me this morning. My answer, as the proud recipient of an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University, may surprise you.

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HI! Your To MFA Or Not To MFA is a great question and I can’t answer it for you; it’s a decision you have to make for yourself. What I can do is give you my experience, tell you why I did it and what the pros were for me.

I got my MA in Creative Writing because I was tired of working in food service, and the MA allowed me to teach instead of waiting tables, wearing a garlic clove hat, and working as a prep chef.
ready for Skype therapy
The degree also functioned as a calling card to agents, demonstrating that I was a) serious enough about my writing to take time out of my life to dedicate to a master’s; b) had the chops to get accepted to a program. (Although I applied to Boston University three times before they finally let me in!) My program at B.U. was a year long; it was like boot camp for writers. Our instructors created a very competitive atmosphere. But the students didn’t partake in the competition, and I have friends to this day from the program who are like my family.

I also graduated with some short stories I was able to market and the first drafts of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers–both novels I finished years after the program.

B.U.’s MA program also made me a better writer because it forced me to be a more conscious writer. Before the program, I was writing mostly by instinct; after the program, which forced me to examine and justify my choices, there wasn’t a single thing on the page, from character motivation to story arc to word choice to comma placement, that I hadn’t made a conscious decision about.

What I did not get from my program: any connections to the publishing world, marketing help, or advice. I did all that legwork on my own.

One of the things I love about the school I teach for, Grub Street Writers in Boston, is that it offers MA/ MFA-level instruction and *also* is committed to helping its students’ work see publication. When I work on novels for Grub, I do so with the full intent of getting them out into the world and into the hands of their readership. So the MA/ MFA is *not* the only route to take.

Bottom line: it depends on what you want. If you want instruction and a community, if you have a novel you want to publish and you intend to concentrate on that specifically, Grub Street may be the way to go (I’d say “or similar program” but I honestly can’t recommend another as good!). If you want time to work on your writing, instruction, a degree that can help lead to teaching, and a traditional calling card, the MA/ MFA may work for you–and, as it did for me, become a tool that helped me get published.

* Writers, please weigh in! To MFA or not MFA? Why or why not? * 

2 Responses to #WriterWednesday: To MFA Or Not To MFA, That Is The Question

  1. I managed to score a book deal (FEAST OF SORROW comes out 2017 w/Touchstone Books) without an MFA under my belt. My M.A. is in Critical & Creative Thinking, which is helpful, but it’s not writing specific. I did, however, do my undergrad in English Literature and Writing. For me, I found that having a writing community to be part of was the most important. I started by taking courses at Grub, then found my writing group there. We’ve been meeting every two weeks for the last 7-8 years. That back and forth, the constant challenging each other and encouragement, has been invaluable. I would not be where I am today without Grub Street, and most of all, without my writing group!

    All that said, I wish I could have had the time and $$ to do an MFA because I think I would have loved every second of it. But I have been successful without it.

    • Crystal K, KUDOS on your novel, which I can’t wait to buy! And what you’ve said here is invaluable and encouraging. Thank you! Love and cocktails to you–and happy Grub Museing! XO XO your fan, Jenna. (PS, everyone, Crystal is, in addition to being an author and a master of critical and creative thinking, a social media guru. So if you need advice on that front, look her up!)

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