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To MFA in CW or not.. My situation?


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#1 njw

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 05:24 PM

I was just wondering if I could get some advice...more of a what would you do situation.

Here it is: I just entered my 30s and already have a degree in English (Writing) with minors in Communications and Philosophy. I've also taken 11 various literature/philosophy classes post undergrad when I was considering a PhD in Phil or Lit before but decided against it. E.G. I have probably taken close to 40 classes with heavy writing of various styles already.

I would love to do an MFA just to do it and to have some kind of credential, but honestly I have no interest in teaching, I'm highly introverted, and a move across the country might put a strain on my relationship. I'm honestly not sure how much it would help.

I have minor published works, mostly short stories and feature pieces, but no published novel. I currently freelance work, so moving isn't THAT big of a deal, but I would need to be in a major metro for my gf to also have some opportunities of employment, as well as to continue to get freelance clients. Most small college cities would be out, unfortunately that is where some of the best CW MFA programs are. So I am more looking at the mostly paid tuition low residency programs.

I am just grasping for some differing opinions. I would hope others have different life situations that have accumulated and not just the fresh out of school 22 year olds. My other thoughts are, what happens if I can't do this freelance stuff forever...? Then what? I definitely don't want a corporate office job, been there, done that. But I feel that I would be doing a disservice to some of the other students by not exactly wanting to teach, but more looking at it as a fallback career for when I'm much older, need good health insurance, unable to be so whimsical in moving around the country, etc.

Is it wrong I look at the opportunity to do an MFA like some people look at taking vacations?

Would an MFA even be worth considering? Or should I just stick with writing groups and such?

Thanks.
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#2 Starlajane

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 06:41 PM

I was just wondering if I could get some advice...more of a what would you do situation.

Here it is: I just entered my 30s and already have a degree in English (Writing) with minors in Communications and Philosophy. I've also taken 11 various literature/philosophy classes post undergrad when I was considering a PhD in Phil or Lit before but decided against it. E.G. I have probably taken close to 40 classes with heavy writing of various styles already.

I would love to do an MFA just to do it and to have some kind of credential, but honestly I have no interest in teaching, I'm highly introverted, and a move across the country might put a strain on my relationship. I'm honestly not sure how much it would help.

I have minor published works, mostly short stories and feature pieces, but no published novel. I currently freelance work, so moving isn't THAT big of a deal, but I would need to be in a major metro for my gf to also have some opportunities of employment, as well as to continue to get freelance clients. Most small college cities would be out, unfortunately that is where some of the best CW MFA programs are. So I am more looking at the mostly paid tuition low residency programs.

I am just grasping for some differing opinions. I would hope others have different life situations that have accumulated and not just the fresh out of school 22 year olds. My other thoughts are, what happens if I can't do this freelance stuff forever...? Then what? I definitely don't want a corporate office job, been there, done that. But I feel that I would be doing a disservice to some of the other students by not exactly wanting to teach, but more looking at it as a fallback career for when I'm much older, need good health insurance, unable to be so whimsical in moving around the country, etc.

Is it wrong I look at the opportunity to do an MFA like some people look at taking vacations?

Would an MFA even be worth considering? Or should I just stick with writing groups and such?

Thanks.


For your purposes, a low-res program would probably be optimal. However, here are a few thoughts:

I think that most writers pursue an MFA to really make or advance their careers; an MFA gives writers a teaching credential (and the possibility of teaching, which is how a lot of writers are able to continue writing without starving) as well as a credential that might make them more appealing to publishers. For example, if you are a struggling writer, then an MFA from a prestigious program might help you to get published or get a teaching job.

Keep in mind that, if you are introverted, an MFA might not be the best environment for you: workshopping is the standard (fellow writers/ classmates read and comment on your work) and I think that most would agree that you either need to be thick-skinned or ready to receive feedback on your work; not that fellow writers are cruelly critical but that, when your writing is personal, it can be difficult to hear and productively process criticism of any kind. This is a lot of what the MFA is about. You really need to be at a point where you are able to share your writing, to want and listen to feedback.

An MFA is a vacation? Really? You might be trying to say that you really enjoy writing but nearly all MFA candidates do. However, I have yet to hear of any of them equating an MFA program to a vacation because it's work, plain and simple. Unlike writing on your own, you have weekly deadlines for creative work, which culminates in a larger body of creative work (like a thesis) to receive your degree. And it all needs to be approved by your profs. At least, that's how it is for a lot of full res programs; maybe low-res programs are a bit more relaxed.

If you are worried about job security, the opportunity to pursue an MFA will always be there; it will do you very little good to get an MFA now if you only plan to use it twenty years down the line. However, if you think that it will improve your writing or provide you with the structure/environment you need to write that book--and thereby advance your career as a writer--then go for it. However, if you really don't think that you need it, then consider that, if you continue to write and publish on your own, you will have an impressive file to present when you get closer to needing or wanting an MFA, especially if teaching is not really something you want to do and you already have a good amount of stable work/income.

Also, there are lots of creative writing programs in major metro areas: NYU and UTAustin come to mind. But, yes, you would have to move. I am not sure if you are allowed to continue publishing if you are enrolled and receiving a stipend from a program; I think that the idea is that they are paying you for what you produce. I would look into that when considering your programs.

In the end, only you can decide if an MFA is the way to go. However, those who actually decide are the admissions committees. Before deciding if you want to pursue an MFA, you have to actually get into a program. Maybe apply to some programs and see what happens? You can always decline if you get in but aren't ready to go.
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#3 njw

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 08:21 PM

Hello thanks for the advice.

And yes I would like to get over that *hump* and possibly be more attractive to publishers and at least get some more eyes on my work.
As far as vacation goes, I meant monetarily... like some people save up money for vacations. I have used discretionary money to take additional classes.

Do you mean if I entered a program, I wouldn't be able to do my freelance work anymore? If so that is definitely something I didn't think of. I know I would be *more* limited in terms of time but I am paid reasonably well as it is now. A stipend as my only income would be pretty small indeed, I have looked at what some pay. Not that I would look down on that at all, I would have been glad to have a stipend when I was younger, but after 10 years of working I would be hesitant for significant downgrades in income.
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#4 Starlajane

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 09:21 PM

Hello thanks for the advice.

And yes I would like to get over that *hump* and possibly be more attractive to publishers and at least get some more eyes on my work.
As far as vacation goes, I meant monetarily... like some people save up money for vacations. I have used discretionary money to take additional classes.

Do you mean if I entered a program, I wouldn't be able to do my freelance work anymore? If so that is definitely something I didn't think of.


LOL, I'm glad you explained the part about it being a "vacation"; I was really wondering...

I can't for the life of me remember where I read the part about not being able to publish while you were enrolled; maybe I'm getting it confused with publication guidelines (i.e. when a publisher decides to publish your work, you aren't allowed to publish it anywhere else for x amount of days). But I would definitely ask, about both issues, actually, because you will also need to submit a writing sample and don't want to get caught up in any strange infringement issues. I would ask each program in which you are interested about specific guidelines for the submission of work that has already been published as well as if you are able to publish work--unrelated to the MFA or that you *might* simultaneously be workshopping or preparing for an MFA "thesis"--if/when you are accepted and taking classes.

I will reiterate that if you are thinking about the MFA so you can finally get that novel written, go for it, although I would rec a full res program b/c it is very easy to get derailed from a novel (but maybe that's just me). However, no matter which type of program you choose, your profs (as well as fellow classmates) will be invaluable wrt the editing process and revising for publication.

I will also add that there is a population of creative writers who argue that MFA programs/workshops ruin the creative process for a lot of writers, perhaps b/c of the structure and plethora of feedback, a.k.a interderence. I'm not sure how I feel about it but I would definitely be sure to research programs thoroughly to find a program that will be a good match depending on how much support you might [not] want; I imagine that's also part of the reason why you would choose a low res option, although bear in mind that some res programs (like Michener) are adament about letting their writers "be" while providing them with very cozy stipends. Just food for thought.
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#5 Magdalena

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Posted 24 February 2012 - 03:51 AM

Two things:

You can definitely continue working and publishing while receiving a stipend from a university. Most stipends pay you for either teaching or assisting the department in other ways.

If you aren't interested in gaining teaching experience, you should look into programs that don't require that you teach. Some programs (like Michener) offer very cushy fellowships with absolutely no demands on your time outside of attending classes.

People pursue MFA degrees for many reasons. The teaching experience is a perk or a burden depending on how you look at it.
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