Author Topic: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?  (Read 3252 times)  

Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #50 on: March 09, 2018, 01:48:25 PM »
When we moved back to my home town, I contacted the head of the English dept., who also runs the MFA program, at the local university (which is the major university in the state), and offered to come talk to students anytime. I have a four-book series set in the town, it's traditionally published, and it's sold quite well (top rank #8 in the Amazon store). I'm a very successful author by most people's measure. Oh--I also mentioned that my father was the head of the Foreign Languages and Literature department at said university, and that I grew up in town.

Was he interested? Three guesses? NO. I immediately got back a "Don't call us, we'll call you." He added that, "Perhaps some of our students might be interested in hearing about genre fiction. If they are, I'll let you know." That was about a year ago.

That's why I'd never get an MFA. :) I have a (writing-intensive) B.A. in History from Berkeley and an MBA (also writing-intensive) in Finance and Marketing, plus almost 25 years' experience in editing, marketing, and the business side of legal and educational publishing, and all of that has served me pretty well as an indie author.

If you burned to be a literary fiction author and you wanted to teach, though, obviously it makes sense. (Though perhaps not in terms of ROI.)

Offline LilyBLily

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #51 on: March 09, 2018, 02:29:45 PM »
When we moved back to my home town, I contacted the head of the English dept., who also runs the MFA program, at the local university (which is the major university in the state), and offered to come talk to students anytime. I have a four-book series set in the town, it's traditionally published, and it's sold quite well (top rank #8 in the Amazon store). I'm a very successful author by most people's measure. Oh--I also mentioned that my father was the head of the Foreign Languages and Literature department at said university, and that I grew up in town.

Was he interested? Three guesses? NO. I immediately got back a "Don't call us, we'll call you." He added that, "Perhaps some of our students might be interested in hearing about genre fiction. If they are, I'll let you know." That was about a year ago.

That's why I'd never get an MFA. :) I have a (writing-intensive) B.A. in History from Berkeley and an MBA (also writing-intensive) in Finance and Marketing, plus almost 25 years' experience in editing, marketing, and the business side of legal and educational publishing, and all of that has served me pretty well as an indie author.

If you burned to be a literary fiction author and you wanted to teach, though, obviously it makes sense. (Though perhaps not in terms of ROI.)

That experience is in line with the snubs other authors report after offering to speak to groups at their public library or their former college. I think the bottom line is that you can't walk in as a stranger. It's certainly possible to cultivate the connections to get in, but of course once you do, you wonder what's the point.



 

Offline bmcox

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #52 on: March 09, 2018, 03:39:48 PM »
I have complicated feelings about my MFA program. I met some wonderful students and had a couple good instructors. For me, going back for an MFA had to do with a psychological need. I went back older, I had been writing for many years, and was always trying to improve my craft. I also wanted to teach (because I am a writer who believes writing can be taught). The academic side focused on the teaching of writing, which was wonderful, but studio side focused heavily on LitFic and I was a SpecFic writer. It was an uphill battle to get instructors, and even students, to understand what I was doing. Thankfully there were other closeted genre writers there and we were able to support each other.

When people ask if they should go back, I usually try to dissuade them (unless they are applying to fully funded programs or possibly genre focused ones). There are several marvelous programs out there, but it's chunk of change to attend and the demand for writing instructors is infinitesimal compared to the number of MFA graduates. If someone doesn't want to teach, then I ask if they just feel they need to do it for themselves. I still don't think it's a good idea, but I usually say the education will only be as good as what you put into it. Don't expect that attending classes, listening to instructors, and turning in homework will get you what you want. You need to be an active, inquiring, self-challenging, self-motivated student who is using this time to get better at your craft. Learn quickly what feedback is valuable or what feedback is useless. It doesn't matter if your prof has won the Pulitzer, if they don't know what you are trying to do or have no interest in what excites you, then you will suffer if you think their feedback is all that matter. They are just a human being with particular tastes. Education is a two-way street. Find profs that are excited and supportive of you. But above all, in the end, no one cares about your work more than you. You could attend a program or not attend. No one is going to miss you. They all have their own work to do and lives to lead. Invest in yourself.

If after talking to them about my experience or friends' experiences they want to do something, but an MFA may not be for them, then I recommend a different path. For example, attending workshops like Clarion, or Odyssey, or Viable Paradise, or Lambda Literary, or VONA, etc.. One can get a great education by just doing these types of workshops and, depending, they can cost less. Some like Odyssey and Clarion require many weeks of your life to attend and may not be feasible for everyone. But there are several shorter workshops, some that span only a week or a weekend. (I say that "depending, they can cost less" because with Clarion or Odyssey you may have to quit your job to attend as they are six-week, full residency programs that cost $2k-$5k. Everything added up, they could cost you a close to a year's tuition at an MFA program if your employer isn't cooperative about your leave of absence.)

The larger, well-known workshops are competitive, just like the MFA programs, so you must submit your best work (often short stories) to be considered and accepted. Smaller, regional workshops may just be a matter of seat availability. Moreover, there are online classes and workshops taught by well-known writers that one could take if one is interested in improving their writing.

There are so many options, an MFA doesn't have to be the only route. If you want to teach, then yes, probably, you need an MFA.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2018, 03:48:17 PM by bmcox »

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Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #53 on: March 09, 2018, 03:57:20 PM »
There are so many options, an MFA doesn't have to be the only route. If you want to teach, then yes, probably, you need an MFA.

It's worth mentioning (from an inside-academia perspective) that good creative writing jobs are very, very hard to come by these days. I honestly wouldn't shoot for it unless you're a literary fiction/poetry wunderkind who gets into a fully funded Top 10 or maybe Top 20 program. The same goes for any degree designed to lead to a university teaching job in the arts or humanities. It's bad out there. Really bad. A heck of a lot of people end up massively in debt, teaching twelve classes a year at three different campuses for an average of $2,600/course.

Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #54 on: March 09, 2018, 04:01:16 PM »
That experience is in line with the snubs other authors report after offering to speak to groups at their public library or their former college. I think the bottom line is that you can't walk in as a stranger. It's certainly possible to cultivate the connections to get in, but of course once you do, you wonder what's the point.

If an institution can't see that an author who is from that town, attended that institution, and has sold millions of books (hundreds of thousands of them set in that same small town and university) could be of interest to people studying to be . . . well, authors, I . . . I guess I don't get it. My dad's name is on a conference room in their building, for heaven's sake. Until last year, my sister, who has the same very unusual last name as myself and our father, taught right across the lawn and did many multidisciplinary projects with other departments.

I'd thought of it as a favor I could do as a hometown girl, paying it forward. But nah. It's like they think of it as two entirely separate professions--writing "real" books or churning out trash, presumably--even without checking what I actually write. I don't really get it, but then, I don't have to. If that's what an MFA is, though--it just seems like you're asking to keep the day job forever, and I don't get that, either.

Yeah, I was offended. But I had sufficient consolation. :)
« Last Edit: March 09, 2018, 04:03:32 PM by Usedtoposthere »

Offline bmcox

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #55 on: March 09, 2018, 04:03:59 PM »
Agreed, Becca. Additionally, if you do get a FT job, working in academia is a difficult gig. You put in way more hours than 40 a week (sometimes well over 80) with service, prep work, grading and your own writing depending on the school. The writing in the summers thing is a myth. So many talented people I know in sciences and humanities have jumped ship for more lucrative careers in industry.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2018, 04:40:00 PM by bmcox »

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Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #56 on: March 09, 2018, 04:13:21 PM »
Agreed, Becca. Additionally, if you do get a FT job, working in academia is a difficult gig. You put in way more hours than 40 a week (sometimes well over of 80) with service, prep work, grading and your own writing depending on the school. The writing in the summers thing is a myth. So many talented people I know in sciences and humanities have jumped ship for more lucrative careers in industry.

Yeah, I agree. :(  I'm not teaching this year, and while I miss the actual students, that's all I miss.

Offline Vale

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #57 on: March 13, 2018, 06:41:06 PM »
I'm always curious about the popular fiction tracks in MFA programs and how well they might prepare someone to write speculative fiction. On the flip side, I was at the largest literary writing convention in the US last weekend and it's interesting to see the influence of speculative (genre/commercial) fiction into the consciousness of even the literary world. Literary authors are starting to see their self-published peers making a living at it. It was glossed over, but when talking about how fiction cannot make money but you can get a little from speaking engagement, the author very quickly mentioned that her self-publishing friends were all making a living at it, then went on.

Kelly Link is a rock star writer with a massive following, and her name came up even when it wasn't a panel she was on. Someone had asked her if she "felt like a complete failure for self-publishing her first book." Her answer was no, obviously, but it looks like she never stopped self-publishing. Small Beer Press is her self-publishing imprint and she just moved on to publish other people's works, too. I've never heard her mentioned as an indie in a literary setting, probably because her short fiction wins literary awards all the time.

I think anyone who also writes literary fiction probably has stars in their eyes for the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the top program in the US. I'd heard that you can spot them at conventions by the traumatized look in their eyes. I found mine on a panel about failure. One mentioned that he didn't want to "end up like the other Iowa graduates, 80% of whom never write another word." That alarmed me, combined with the fact that the failure panel was all Iowa graduates. More than literary accolades or writing chops, I love telling stories. If you told me that the top program in the country takes the best writers and gets 80% of them to give up writing... I'm not sure what to think of that. I'm assuming it's hyperbole, but above all else I would think the point of a writing program is to encourage writers to write and enjoy writing while improving at it.

Overall, people were friendly and great, but my indie hackles were raised by those events. And hearing someone around 40 years old say "speculative fiction? I've never heard of such a thing? When did that start?"

I'd love to hear from people who did popular fiction MFAs and how helpful they were, just from a position of curiosity.

Offline Simon Haynes

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #58 on: March 13, 2018, 08:52:36 PM »
BA in English (Film & Creative writing dbl major) from Curtin University, Western Australia. A lot of bringing stuff to class, passing copies around, and getting critiqued, which is handy whatever you write.


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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #59 on: March 13, 2018, 09:57:32 PM »
BA in English (Film & Creative writing dbl major) from Curtin University, Western Australia. A lot of bringing stuff to class, passing copies around, and getting critiqued, which is handy whatever you write.

Not sure how old you are, but we'd probably have mutual friends. I think I know some people who did that course.

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Offline Marian

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Re: Anyone here have an MFA in Creative Writing?
« Reply #60 on: March 14, 2018, 03:23:10 PM »
I'm always curious about the popular fiction tracks in MFA programs and how well they might prepare someone to write speculative fiction. On the flip side, I was at the largest literary writing convention in the US last weekend and it's interesting to see the influence of speculative (genre/commercial) fiction into the consciousness of even the literary world. Literary authors are starting to see their self-published peers making a living at it. It was glossed over, but when talking about how fiction cannot make money but you can get a little from speaking engagement, the author very quickly mentioned that her self-publishing friends were all making a living at it, then went on.

Kelly Link is a rock star writer with a massive following, and her name came up even when it wasn't a panel she was on. Someone had asked her if she "felt like a complete failure for self-publishing her first book." Her answer was no, obviously, but it looks like she never stopped self-publishing. Small Beer Press is her self-publishing imprint and she just moved on to publish other people's works, too. I've never heard her mentioned as an indie in a literary setting, probably because her short fiction wins literary awards all the time.

I think anyone who also writes literary fiction probably has stars in their eyes for the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the top program in the US. I'd heard that you can spot them at conventions by the traumatized look in their eyes. I found mine on a panel about failure. One mentioned that he didn't want to "end up like the other Iowa graduates, 80% of whom never write another word." That alarmed me, combined with the fact that the failure panel was all Iowa graduates. More than literary accolades or writing chops, I love telling stories. If you told me that the top program in the country takes the best writers and gets 80% of them to give up writing... I'm not sure what to think of that. I'm assuming it's hyperbole, but above all else I would think the point of a writing program is to encourage writers to write and enjoy writing while improving at it.

Overall, people were friendly and great, but my indie hackles were raised by those events. And hearing someone around 40 years old say "speculative fiction? I've never heard of such a thing? When did that start?"

I'd love to hear from people who did popular fiction MFAs and how helpful they were, just from a position of curiosity.
You have to expect an abundance of literary snobbery at a convention for literary writing. It's the fuel that keeps the factory going.

Seriously, MFA programs exist to make money, and to give MFA graduates a chance to get jobs. The few graduates who make it as traditionally-published writers would have probably succeeded without their MFAs. The only difference between Iowa and other MFA programs is that Iowa has "bigger names" on the faculty. Also, there is more pressure in the well-known programs like Iowa to show their success by getting students' work published, which can do a young writer a disservice. An example of this the Ayana Mathis book "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie." Mathis is a gifted writer: her sentences are gorgeous. But her book isn't a novel; nor is it a collection of short stories. I don't know what it is, but I do know that it wasn't ready to be published, yet the book had testimonials on it from her famous writing teachers. I live in a university town. Years ago I read an awful book written by a graduate of the MFA program here. The testimonials on the back cover were all from the MFA faculty, but no one who wasn't familiar with the university would know that was the case.

This year hopeful writers who are looking for agents and who want to be traditionally published will spend thousands on pricey conferences hoping to make a connection. Eventually some of them will become indies if they can overcome their snobbery.

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