“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.
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? *