What did you do with your MFA in creative writing?
September 14, 2019 12:53 AM   Subscribe

Prompted by the recent English major thread... if you earned an MFA in creative writing, would you mind sharing a bit about your subsequent employment or publication pattern? If you paid anything for it, do you feel you recouped the value? To the extent you expected when you entered the program?
posted by gallusgallus to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From my roommate who got his MFA in poetry through a creative writing low-residency program in 2013:
"First of all, i don't think you can ever recoup your student loans in this day and age. If you look at it that way, you'll never be happy. I am an adjunct faculty member at a university that has many full time faculty members that have MFA's, so this is not a dead end path. If teaching is your goal, depending on the size of your area and the institutions around you, finding a full time position isn't guaranteed. Often you are just waiting for faculty members to retire or die."
In regards to publishing: "having an MFA doesn't guarentee publication because art is subjective and you may never be right for journals or publishing companies you submit to. An MFA's goal is to make you the strongest writer you can be, not just get you published. But like any other art form, the more honed your skills are, the more likely you are to find a place for your work."
His career path "lots of hustling, research, and getting work where you can. I've published 3 chapbooks, literary reviews, and many poems in journals. My goal is to be able to support myself without having to wait tables on the side. My degree has made it possible to do less of that. I've taught in grant positions, prison, and universities. Not all MFA's teach you how to teach and that's not everyone's end goal. That's my goal and I learned a lot about teaching on my own."
On the financial impact: "i'm waiting for the end of the world so I don't have to fuck with my student loans. Try to find a program that helps with funding. Biggest advice, you should never have to pay for someone to publish your work. That is a scheme. You should always be paid for your work or be ok with unpaid publication. I've only made about $500 off of books sales, but poetry is the most underpaid art form. I get paid more for reading engagements than i do for book sales."
posted by August Fury at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2019

I've had a weird career path! Got a Master's in Library Science about 13 years ago, started a career as a public librarian, ALSO published a YA novel to good reviews but poor sales, kept trying to keep my writing career up under Trying Circumstances, had a combination of burnout and getting priced out of NYC* and absolutely horrible luck trying to find a librarian job anywhere else. I needed to get out of New York and I needed a new start and I applied to a bunch of fully-funded midwestern MFA programs.

*I mean, I was always priced out of NYC, but as one gets older one becomes less willing to endure roommates and tepid showers.

MetaFilter sternly advised me against doing this.

I was not expecting to get a job as a creative writing professor. I was expecting to get three years of writing out of it, and then maybe work for an arts-related nonprofit, or at a public library, or at an academic library. OR I would discover that I really loved teaching and would figure out how to make it work as an adjunct composition instructor.

To my surprise, I feel that the MFA REALLY hindered my public library career prospects. To be fair, it's possible I just had bad luck with interviews! But I think that many of the hiring managers I talked to in the public library sector either thought public librarianship was a reluctant fallback career for me (It wasn't! I had burnout from one specific job but would have been happy to go back to public libraries!) or just preferred someone with more recent public library experience.

I graduated this past spring. In July I accepted a position as head of a community college library in a smallish central Iowa town. Although I'm not overly enthused about the geographic area, I really like the work and the people. I'm still working very hard on my thesis novel (hoping to send it out before the end of the year) and I've had some short fiction publications. I think that the program was good for my development as a writer and very good for my development as a person.

I am VERY glad that I only applied to fully-funded programs.
posted by Jeanne at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have an MFA in Creative writing that I don't use at all, and doubt I ever will. I basically just use it if I need to play hierarchy bs games with people who only respect degrees. I've got two terminal degrees, but no PhD, and I'm fine with it.

As I said in the other thread, my involvement in the scholarly reading of pop culture and postmodernism are both things I cherish from my educational endeavors but they have absolutely no bearing on my career. I didn't need six figures of debt to be able to analyze Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Brak Show.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:54 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was fortunate to get an MFA in a fully-funded program, so I graduated with no debt. I published two short stories, worked as a thank-you letter writer at a major foundation, then said fuck this and went to law school.

NOW I have student loan debt and work for legal aid. I've completed two novels and have struck out on finding an agent, but all my best readers (and my life partner) came from my peers in the MFA.

I learned more about how not to write than how to write in school, but I'm happy with my development as an artist, even if I'm unhappy with my literary career.
posted by Handstand Devil at 7:18 PM on September 14, 2019

I have an MFA in nonfiction writing. I worked in magazine publishing, at jobs I got through my connections that started at school. I also wrote two books and had a financially successful blog, and did some occasional freelance work in book publishing. All of these were in the nonfiction / crafts / humor / tech editing side of things, no fiction for me. I'd done a lot of writing before going to grad school but never been paid for it before then.

Financially, it worked for me. I had a better situation than 99.999% of the people getting an MFA, though, so it probably isn't relevant to you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:24 PM on September 16, 2019

I have an MFA -- ok, technically an MA, that's how Johns Hopkins structures it -- in fiction writing. It was fully funded (I taught creative writing to first-year undergrads.) It gave me two things that were really worth the time I spent -- a year to work on my novel, which I mostly finished, and the internal permission to think of myself as a writer. The connections I made there also helped me get a New York agent who shopped my novel to the New York houses but... no one wanted it. I did eventually publish it, with a medium-sized nonprofit press, a decade later, not through MFA connections. I am not a full-time writer, but I do write articles and nonfiction books, and it's possible I wouldn't have pursued that if I hadn't done the creative writing degree. Still, I can't honestly say it would have been a good decision for me to go deeply into debt for that degree.
posted by escabeche at 7:10 AM on September 17, 2019

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