Creative Writing & MFAs


A short blog today for a quick question — as I’ve been ruminating on my feelings of higher education and the academy, I’ve been coming back to this question again and again with mixed results every time; so I want to extend it to you:

Are MFAs worth their cost in time and money to writers or are writers better served by working on their own with a daily regimen of reading, writing, and editing?



3 thoughts on “Creative Writing & MFAs”

  1. Well I was going to go this way, and was encouraged to do so in college, the English department was going to help me into a program at Northern Iowa…instead I chose the working class day job, journalist job,sometimes editor sometimes managing editor, supplemented by construction work, forest work, and finally a career as a Federal writer editor. I thought teaching writing before I’d struggled to become a writer was disingenuous to the painful process of putting your soul to the fire. I’m retired now and finally working on my own stuff and no one else s. I’d say go for the freaking MFA and write your own ticket.Putting your soul in the fire of this world happens no matter what you do.

  2. I think you raise an interesting point here, James, about accruing experience and developing expertise before attempting to dive into teaching — however, I’m still not certain if I see why the MFA is necessary when you can simply dive into the writing world; of course, things are changing and we arguably have too many people diving into the *publishing* world before they should but I still don’t know if this means we should put a greater emphasis on MFAs or not. So many of my friends and colleagues who have earned their MFAs have either said it was a complete waste of time or a career-changing experience.

  3. I’m not an MFA evangelist by any means, but I am in my first year of an MFA program. When I was thinking about applying for the MFA, my college professors told me that I certainly didn’t *need* the degree in order to be a writer–they believed I could find my way into the writing world on my own. I agree! I probably could do that. But I realized that the MFA would give me two things that I likely would’ve lost out on if I had to work full time and make a run at this writing thing completely on my own: First, it gives me time to write and to sort out precisely what it is I hope to do/accomplish. Second, it provides *space* to write–in other words, a supportive environment with the built-in feedback machine of the workshop. At this point in my life/career, I require that sort of structure in order to be productive. On my own, without deadlines and a built-in community, I don’t write nearly as much as I need and want to. Some of my classmates have complained that they’re writing less now than they were before they started the program, but for me it’s just the opposite. The TL;DR, I suppose, is that the MFA absolutely isn’t worth the time and money for every writer, but if the structure of a graduate program is helpful to your process it definitely can be.

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