1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

MFA in Creative Writing

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by WaylonJennings, May 1, 2007.

  1. Hey, moderate board user, using a new handle because I've talked to people about this idea already and I don't want to out myself to them under my other handle.

    Anyway ... I've been pondering blowing this popstand known as newspaper journalism and instead trying to get into an MFA program in creative writing. Obviously you'd hope to get into somewhere like Iowa or another top one, but ultimately they're all pretty competitive.

    Now, that being said, does anyone have any experiences with creative writing programs? Is it a total waste? A pipedream? Better off going to medical or business school?

    Just wanted to collect some thoughts from a community of writers who have surely had dreams of literary fame and fortune at some point.
  2. Cousin Jeffrey

    Cousin Jeffrey Active Member

    Well, going to a top school, and some argue that the Iowa method isn't great anymore, only works if you're a good writer. Basically you have to want to be a creative writing teacher as well to support yourself, if you go down that path. If you want to make money, go to another career. If you want to work on your writing and explore that as a career path, then do an MFA.
  3. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    If you choose to go after the MFA, understand exactly why you are doing it. If it is to give yourself the time and space to work on your craft, fine. Hang out with creative people with time on their hands? Terrific. Make connections in publishing? Very limited for fiction, better for poetry (but that means just to publish, not to earn anything doing it - the MFA on the CV will get you published in hundreds of little poetry magazines and after twenty years might get a chapbook published). Nonfiction? Could be a waste, because they push you to write nonfiction that is very inward. If it is with the expectation of entering creative writing academia, think very hard, because that is a snake pit of politics and philosophy, and you have to get your doctorate anyway. If you still choose to go, select a program based on teachers whose work you like, not on the program name or rep, and plan on spending or borrowing a minimum of $20-40K a year to pay for the program. Very few give full rides. And BTW for most you have to take the GRE's in English literature, so bone up. As I recall the test had perhaps three or four questions that touched on the 20th century, and lots questions that asked you to identify the author of a stanza of some generic 18C poet.

    I know plenty of people who went for the MFA, and plenty of people who have published novels/poetry/essays. Most of the latter did not have the former. The vast majority of people in MFA programs are in them to avoid working in the real world - alot of trust fund kids who aren't kids anymore - and spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over very limited bodies of work. I think working in the real world makes your writing relevant.

    You learn to write by writing and finding what motivates you to write. For me it was being told I couldn't. For you it might be an MFA program. But all of us it is whatever allows you to spend all day filling up the page.

    I applied once. One program turned me down, one let me in and didn't offer any money. I didn't go. Pissed off, I wrote and sold my first story a few months later, and have published several million words since then, mostly nonfiction, mostly sports, but not exclusively. Not getting into an MFA program was the best thing that ever happened to me.
  4. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    Waylon, "Dreaming My Dreams" was genius. Thanks for that album. In Exile, great post. It's easier to get published in poetry. And oh yes, that English GRE is an SOB. I graduated with honors from a "Little Ivy" and took the GRE while still a senior. Lack of 18th century knowledge kicked my ass. I was typical in that I studied Shakespeare, the Romantics and the Moderns. Academics seem to love that 18th century shit.

    Yeah, there's a Lit Mafia and going getting an MA or MFA from a creative writing program is the way to go. You'll GREATLY enhance your chances of getting published, not necessarily by what you learn, but by who you meet...particularly if you go to a reputable school...and particularly if you go out of your way to attend seminars, symposia or those high-dollar "retreats" where the trust-fund babies get drunk and have sex enjoy the monastic quietude necessary to cultivate their genius. You'll meet a few geniuses and scores of douchebags. Good luck.
  5. palestra

    palestra New Member

    good thread...thanks guys.
  6. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    You will find that the world of creative writing and the world of people who need to work for a living have a tendency to remain exclusive of one another.
  7. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    Don't mean to sound sour grapes about the creative writing world here. It's just like anything else in life- if you weren't born rich and/or connected, you'll have to work harder. Dostoevsky wrote in a prison camp. Meanwhile the corporate lawyer who writes on the side can go schmooze with publishers on a retreat in upstate NY and fast-track his novel about the pains of being a corporate lawyer. "So it goes." If you want to write, do it, follow the dream. Maybe following the dream will mean putting up with BS...so be it.

    What I'm saying is that I used to think that the world of writing was less polluted by money than, for example, the world of visual art. Sadly, that's not so.
  8. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    First things first: there are part-time and non residency programs, summer programs, etc., anything to fit your need. Education is a business and fills the needed niches.

    There is also a "lit mafia" for poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction and literary fiction. Many of the little magazines exist only to publish MFAs, and some won't even look at your work without seeing the CV and list of credits from other little magazines. It is all very self-referential and incestuous, but very few of those writers ever break into commercial publishing in a meaningful way. It's meant to give people the publishing credits so they can get jobs teaching workshops, as instructors in other MFA programs etc.

    That is not to say that creative writing programs aren't valuable. My undergrad degree is in creative writing and it worked for me, because it brought me to the point where I was confident about my work and didn't need school anymore as a motivator (not that the drinking and sex in monastic quietude and other settings were not valuable as well). Many, many, many people are in MFA programs because without the MFA program they simply do not write. And that is the real key in this business, and the difference between those of us who are writers and who want to be writers - continuing to write, and finding reasons to do so.

    Twenty years ago - (after I didn't get in to the MFA program, which was basically because I had a lousy job and was desperate to do anything else) I got together a small group of friends who were interested in writing. We met every 2-3 weeks in my apartment to drink beer and read our work aloud. We didn't critique, just shared and got drunk and talked about writing. But it gave us all the motivation we needed to keep writing - no one wanted to be embarrassed by showing up with nothing. Of the five or six of us in the core group, which disbanded when I moved in 1993, one guy has since published several small press novels and teaches. Another writes for a newspaper and just started publishing short stories in those little magazines. One's on disability, just started in an MFA program and is starting to publish. And I've been supporting myself by writing exclusively for almost 15 years.

    The key is to find a reason to keep writing, and not just keep putting manuscripts in a drawer. That can be, but does not have to be, an MFA program. Share your work with others in readings or workshops - many are free in large cities - or start your own. Develop and cultivate a network of people interested in writing. In the end, you create your own MFA program. If you share your work, and it's good, it will find its way into print. Query writers you like. Read up on their background - how they continued - or call them up and ask. If they're like me, they might just be isolated enough that they don't mind talking about it.

    Without getting too zen, there are many paths to get there. An MFA is one way, but it's awful busy and well trodden. But there are other ways, too.

    Twenty years ago what I am doing now was unfathomable. I had no connections, no trust fund, no marketable skills but a work ethic. I thought writers were other people.

    They're not.
  9. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    He nailed it. Good post.

    Were it me to do over again three times, I would (1) never have gone into journalism and (2) went to USC for screenwriting. Look broader than just creative writing or the MFA, which is no small feather in your cap, but still.
  10. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Before you throw in for a full two- or three-year MFA program, you might try a summer creative writing program somewhere. There are a number of good ones, and even a week in a workshop environment can help you decide if it's something you want to pursue. Stick to the workshops that require writing samples before admitting students. And look for those with the best rotation of visiting faculty and/or guest lecturers.

    You can Google up a bunch; or look through the latest copy of Poets and Writers.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page