Receiving an MFA in Creative Writing in 2018 was one of my greatest accomplishments by far.
It was the conclusion of an eight-year pursuit, first of all. In 2010 I made the decision I wanted to focus on fiction writing the next few years, and I really wanted to spend some time in an MFA program to improve in my abilities.
So I applied that fall… and wasn’t accepted anywhere. I tried again in 2012 and was accepted to exactly one program… but they didn’t have any funding. Finally the stars aligned in 2014 when my local university started its own MFA in Creative Writing, and I was ecstatic to be accepted to its first MFA class of fiction writers.
I had an incredible experience in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Nevada, Reno, between 2015 and 2018. I learned a lot. I worked really hard. I had some great adventures. I met so many amazing people.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, and two years out of the program, I certainly miss a few things. So let’s talk about the good of an MFA, shall we?
Here are five reasons you you should pursue an MFA in Creative Writing…
This in many ways is the number one reason to do it. When you have a full-time job and you have lots of responsibilities and you have very little time for yourself, it can be hard to ever find quality time to devote to your writing. Sure, you might be able to grab a half-hour here and a half-hour there, but how are you ever going to get better at your craft if you’re always cramming in writing sessions whenever they’re made available to you?
The great thing about an MFA in Creative Writing is that it allows you two or three years to focus exclusively on your writing. It gives you some much needed quiet time to work on the kind of writing that speak to you, that you feel passion for… and that you finally have the time for.
If time is what you’re lacking right now, and you’re serious about becoming a writer, an MFA in Creative Writing might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Another excellent part of joining an MFA in Creative Writing is that you become part of a large community of writers. When you’re off writing on your own and most everyone in your life doesn’t understand what you do, maybe even mocks what you do, it can be really hard to believe in yourself and get any better.
When you sit in rooms with other writers who are pursuing the same craft you are, you feel better about yourself. You gain more confidence. And it’s a gift, really, to find a tribe of like-minded people who love to write and talk about writing. It can be thrilling to develop life-long friends you can root for every step of the way, even after the MFA program has concluded.
I had so many great times with the community I was lucky enough to join in my MFA program in 2015. So many times we helped each other with our writing, so many late nights we spent laughing, so many fun trips to conferences we took together I’ll never forget. The MFA in Creative Writing can be an amazing thing because you go from isolation as a writer to being a part of a community, and there’s truly nothing like it.
Along with community, an MFA in Creative Writing allows you to make helpful connections, both with the professors in your department and with writers that are brought in from the outside. My MFA experience allowed me to get valuable insight into the writing process from at least a dozen knowledgeable and inspiring professors at my school, including a rock star thesis adviser, and they’ve been helpful after the MFA to get references and letters of recommendation, too.
Besides the professors themselves, MFA programs often bring in outside writers at least a couple of times a semester for readings, lectures, and personal visits. In my program each year we had an established fiction writer not only give a reading and lecture but also workshop our writing. They would each be at the university for three days or longer, and so those are connections I’ll always value.
Joining an MFA in Creative Writing program doesn’t necessarily guarantee you connections with literary agents and editors and people like that, but my program had a Publishing & Editing class that had a revolving door of guests from the publishing industry, both in person and via Skype. This seminar taught me so much about the industry and even gave me a few long-lasting connections, too!
If you’re serious about being a writer and want to have your work published in literary magazines, maybe even sign with a literary agent and have a novel published in the future, an MFA in Creative Writing absolutely gives you credibility on all these fronts. While the MFA doesn’t guarantee any of this, what it does is show people that you’re a serious writer and that you’ve spent a few years dedicating time and energy to the craft.
In effect the MFA gives you some credibility. It’s really hard to get accepted to an MFA program, first of all. Many schools receive hundreds of applications and only accept ten or fewer writers a year. It’s tough to get in, and then to maintain the loaded course work and complete that colossal thesis project before the degree is finally yours. An MFA isn’t easy, and receiving that degree shows the world you’ve worked tirelessly for years.
And once you apply for job positions later, and when you query literary agents, and when you submit your shorter work to literary magazines, having in your bio that you graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing will certainly help you reach your dreams than if you had no qualifications at all. Sure, the writing is what matters most, but having the MFA doesn’t hurt you one bit.
Finally, besides time, there might be no better reason to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing than to improve in your craft. You can only get so far as a writer when your work is merely competent or good. You want to be great. You want the time and community and connections to help make you great, and that’s what an MFA in Creative Writing program does.
When I entered my program in 2015, I felt like my writing was solid but could definitely be improved. And through working closely with other students, professors, and visiting writers, and taking more than ten workshops and writing seminars, my writing reached a level by 2018 I never thought was possible. My MFA thesis novel, for example, was something I never thought I had the talent or ability to pull off, but through lots of hard work and help from others, that novel is now everything I hoped it would be.
You’ll learn in an MFA program about literary writing versus genre writing, you’ll study character and setting and theme more closely, you’ll read and discuss lots of amazing books you might never have found on your own, you’ll discover the crucial importance of revision. If you want to improve as a writer? An MFA in Creative Writing is something worth looking into, it’s as simple as that.
Keep in mind that an MFA in Creative Writing isn’t right for everyone.
It’s definitely not the be all and end all. You don’t have to pursue an MFA if you want to be a writer. Again, many successful writers don’t have an MFA. Some don’t even have English degrees of any kind!
An MFA in Creative Writing doesn’t guarantee anything, and every MFA program is different. I was lucky enough to attend a program that welcomed genre writing, so I felt at home writing horror short stories and young adult novels. Many MFA programs wouldn’t have even allowed me to write these things, so if genre writing is your thing, you’ll have to think twice about what you want to do.
Whatever you plan on doing, hopefully this list gives you some insight into the most positive aspects of an MFA in Creative Writing from someone who’s actually gone through one. Whether or not you pursue an MFA, I wish you the best of luck in your writing!
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