Is an MFA in Creative Writing worth it?
April 17, 2018 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I am deciding if I should pursue a second graduate degree in MFA Creative Writing. Is it valuable for writer that wish to improve their writing and publishing? Does it look good on one's resume? Or is it a waste of time mostly? I have only taken two creative writing courses and two english courses during my undergraduate studies as well. I know that the art world and literary magazines respect writers with MFAs. I am not sure if it is a waste of time or if it is something of extra value and help.
posted by RearWindow to Education (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How are you financing it?
posted by FencingGal at 6:59 PM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

What is your ultimate goal? I know many people -- including myself -- who have been published/are working writers without an MFA. (Which is not to say they are a waste of time, but they're definitely not a requirement if that's the goal.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:18 PM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

The first thought is how feasible is this for you financially? Because if the money is not an issue it's an entirely different question.

Because asking is this "worth it" in terms of ROI? probably not. Writers succeed because publishers want to publish their work and people want to buy it. I know more successful artists/performers/writers without undergraduate degrees than those with masters. The work doesn't come with an MFA stamp on it.

But if you're not burdened by the expense, than "worth it" in a less monetary sense is a valid pursuit. If you'd feel fulfilled or enriched by the experience and you can easily afford it than I'd say it was worth it.
posted by French Fry at 7:23 PM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know that the art world and literary magazines respect writers with MFAs.

I dont know if an MFA will make you more likely to be published by magazines, but it will do absolutely nothing to improve your chances of getting a book deal with a major publisher.

(Which is something I know as a person who worked for major book publishers for many years).
posted by mrmurbles at 7:48 PM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Can you clarify your goals?
posted by warriorqueen at 7:52 PM on April 17, 2018

No, not worth it. Not starting in 2018. Not unless you are independently wealthy, have a full paid scholarship, or like living with large debt that is among the most inescapable types of debt.

There are plenty of great ways to improve your writing for free, if that's your goal.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:53 PM on April 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I did read an interview several years ago with an editor for the Atlantic who said he looked more favorably on submissions from people who had graduated from good MFA programs or who had impressive publication credentials. So that exists. A lot of literary magazines do blind submissions though. I’ve managed a few publications in decent literary magazines without an MFA.

What makes me sometimes wish I’d gotten one is that I do think who you know can help. There was an article a few years ago about how writing success was possible, and every single person featured had gotten a novel published directly as a result of a professor from their MFA program going to bat for them. I’m not saying they weren’t good novels, but it was clear that the foot in the door came from knowing an established writer who taught in a program.

So it’s not true that there’s no benefit to an MFA program. But whether it’s worth it for you is going to be harder to determine, though lots of people will have very strong feelings about it. Of course, success is possible without one. But that doesn’t mean it won’t benefit you.
posted by FencingGal at 8:12 PM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was looking through your posting history, and you seem very interested in the literary world and not super knowledgeable about it. I think you’d benefit from going to a library and reading back issues of Poets and Writers. That would help you with this question too.
posted by FencingGal at 8:30 PM on April 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

As a professional degree the basic math is shitty: the majority of successful writers lack MFAs and the majority of writing MFAs do not achieve success. Law school has been widely denounced as a scam despite having far bette correlation to its objectives.
posted by MattD at 8:49 PM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, it's not 100% truthful to say that certain MFAs are going to get you a little closer to the top of the pile when submitting to publishers and agents, as much as people want to believe that's not true. Everything in publishing is at it's core a networking game in some small way. At the same time, it's absolutely not necessary, and you can be just as successful without one. But the foot in the door some places give you and structured time to write are something to consider with any kind of post-grad literary program. I'm assuming you want to write literary fiction. If not, and you're a genre fiction writer, look for something like Seton Hill's Popular Fiction MFA, UC Riverside, which does a lot of genre stuff, or if you're sci-fi/fantasy Clarion or Clarion West or Viable Paradise as shorter courses which are hugely influential within those genres.
posted by colorblock sock at 8:50 PM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

I thought the purpose of a McFiction degree was to get a teaching position (I am a graduate of an undergrad CW degree back in the early 90's).
posted by JamesBay at 8:55 PM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

The people I know who have done MFA degrees and done well afterwards pretty much all had very strong writing/studio practices going in; the degree was partly to refine what they were doing, but even more a stepping stone to teaching, and definitely for networking.
posted by rtha at 9:14 PM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

My understanding, as someone who briefly ursued an MFA and went to an undergrad school with a very strong writing program, was that an MFA was primarily for writers who wanted to be marketable as creative writing professors at the college/university level. AFAIK, an MFA is still considered the terminal degree for creative writing.
posted by epj at 10:08 PM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's asked from a slightly different perspective, but you might find this previous question useful. I won't repeat my answer in full, but the TL:DR is:

I'm a working writer with an MFA, but I consider my MFA a waste of time and money.

The only time I'd recommend an MFA is if all of the following are true: (1) the time and money will be no hardship, (2) you can't motivate yourself to start writing without a formal program, and (3) you get into a big-name one with genuinely valuable connections in the specific field you want to write in.
posted by yankeefog at 3:45 AM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

(2) you can't motivate yourself to start writing without a formal program,

A further corollary here: "(and yet you are, nevertheless, convinced you will be motivated to continue writing once the program is over)"
posted by rongorongo at 5:30 AM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

As other folks have said, "worth it" depends on your goals and how much it will cost you.

What it will probably do:
Help you improve your writing
Allow you to spend more time writing
Enable you to meet other writers (your professors and fellow students)
Enable you to put "MFA" on your resume

What it will not do:
Get you a book contract
Get you a job teaching writing at the college level

It may also leave you with debt, even if you are lucky and talented enough to land a scholarship or teaching assistant position.

I got an MFA in 1994.

Bottom line: How much more would you get from an MFA vs. doing workshops locally or regionally with good teachers? You'd still improve your writing and meet other writers. I bet if you posted an askme looking for high quality writing workshops in a particular state/region of the country, you'd get a bunch of possibilities.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:46 AM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am a fiction writer with a B.A. in English who has considered this route.

Here's the list of fully funded MFA programs. I would not go into debt for an MFA. (If you have the extra cash, you could also consider doing a distance program while continuing to work.)

From everything I've read, an MFA program is a personal investment, an opportunity to be part of a community of writers, and a way of buying time to make art. It's not a career move (writing instructor jobs are competitive and often low-paying), it won't get you published, and it won't teach an inexperienced writer how to write.

Do your favorite authors, the ones whose careers you hope to emulate, have the MFA? Did you enjoy your creative writing classes in college? Do you already have good writing habits and confidence in yourself as a writer, but seek additional guidance in mastering your craft? If you can answer yes to some of these questions, it's worth considering.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:26 AM on April 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

I did a low residency MFA and found it extremely valuable. My writing improved - and I was forced to write a lot for two years, which was valuable in and of itself - I formed a community of writer friends who are still my inner circle almost 20 years later, and I had enough connections in the literary world that I could submit without an agent and be read.
posted by tangosnail at 10:29 AM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

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