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bear by san

December 2021



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bear by san

As long as I'm spamming lj this morning--

In a locked entry, somebody on my flist was wondering about MFAs--what one does with the degree, should one have it. I know there are a couple of pople who read this who either have one or are working towards it.

So I'm curious: what's the plan? And did it work out that way?

ETA That typo's so lovely I'm just leaving it there.


In the midst of an MA in writing and I'm already teaching at the local university as adjunct. I'm not interested in a full time job, just enough to pay my junkie habit (my writing). Also, with an MA you can get teaching jobs online at Pheonix and other online Universities.

Plus I find spending a few hours a week with undergrads a good shot in the arm for my own creativity.
About the same as wicked up there. I got a MA with a concentration in creative writing, figuring I'd try to get a teaching position. The best offer I had was $20K per year, with no guarantee of a position next year, and no money or benefits over the summer. Since I couldn't exactly put my diabetes on hold for three months, I decided to pass...
My undergraduate degree is in creative writing (but it's a BA and not a BFA, thank goodness), and I underplay it on my resume. I thought, briefly, about getting an MFA and then came to my senses. I had--and have--very little interest in perpetrating the Iowa model of creative writing instruction, because it's often poorly implemented.

I work in the exciting field of capital project management (I track the money), so I rarely get to use my mad poetry skillz, which is probably for the best. No one wants to read PowerPoint presentations about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance in blank verse.
No one wants to read PowerPoint presentations about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance in blank verse.

Oh, I don't know about that...
I'm probably not in the group of people-to-answer-this-question, I don't think (give me two months! And speaking of, your friend Yih's email was bouncing, last time I tried to send...). But maybe I am. I can't tell. What plan do you mean?
Well, what are you going to do with it, once you have it? (and please note: "hang it on the wall" is a perfectly acceptable answer. *g* I just realized that I couldn't answer her question about what one did with an MFA.)
I'll be applying to MFA programs at the end of the year.

I don't expect to get a dream job at a dream school. BUT, I'm going to produce a huge body of creative work over the next year or two, one way or another. I might as well get academic credit for it.

Also, I love to learn stuff.
Oh! Decision! Go you. :)
From what I gather (I dated a girl with an MFA for a couple years) an MFA is sort of like a two-year-long writers' workshop, with all the pros and cons that that entails.

It looks good on a CV, especially if you write literary fiction, especially if you went to one of the major schools like Iowa or Columbia, where you work with (and hopefully learn from) Big Names - eg Michael Cunningham and Richard Russo, in her case - and make a lot of contacts. A number of her classmates got signed to book deals while still in school. She too signed a Major Publisher deal recently, although this was several years after finishing the MFA, and it's unclear whether the degree was a factor in the signing.

Beyond the obvious "good for some people, bad for others, it really depends" caveat, my take is that somewhere like Iowa or Columbia is often worth it; second- and third-tier schools, not so much. (And obviously it depends on how much you like workshops. I'm pretty sure I would have hated every minute.)
I have an MFA in creative writing. Bear in mind that an MFA in painting or some otehr visual art is a very different kettle of fish since that degree actually will get you a job. An MFA in writing however serves no career purpose whatsoever.

Except one:

Its an opportunity to spend a couple years focussed on your writing, and creating creative friendships with other writers. I think coming out of isolation is a very good thing for a writer. This can be a great, very creative time in your life!

To get the most out of it:

FOCUS ON YOUR WRITING. Be very selfish about that. This is why you are there. If you are in the middle of a high maintenance relationship, or going through a "spot" in your life, or are contending with other distractions do what you can to unload the baggage before you go to grad school. Really, the only reason in the world to do an MFA is to have that creative space for yourself. Otherwise you are wasting yourself and wasting a great opportunity. Keep your focus!!

Do not let ANYONE take you away from your purpose-- this means especially the inevitable freshman writing program that will employ you as a teaching assistant. Yes, this will make you money which will make it possible for you to keep your student loans to a minimum, but the freshman writing people will do their best to persuade you to believe that TEACHING is your real purpose for being there. They will craftily try to persuade you that you can actually get a decently paying job later on with your MFA.

Do not listen to this. You are there to write. The only teaching jobs that exist out there after your get your degree will either be a.) For successful writers who have published BOOKS (in which case it is the book that matters, not the degree), or b.) Adjunct positions that don't pay shit. If you have to teach, find a way to do it that will not drain the life out of you. In the words of my old teacher "If you don't publish your book, nobody will care that you have an MFA; If you do publish your book, nobody will care that you don't have an MFA." Keep your eye on your writing!

Finally, I would make an argument for doing an MFA a little later in life rather than right out of college. Even a few more years of life experience will add a great deal to your focus and resolve. It will also give you a chance to develop experience that isn't just about being in school, will will be useful later on.

The only last bit of advice I would give is practical: Try to find a program that will give you a fellowship, or at the very least a teaching assistantship. You should not have to actually pay tuition. My program WAIVED my tuition and gave me money to boot. Most of the better programs will have decent financing options (Syracuse University won't even accept you if they can't fund you!). A few however (Iowa comes to mind) are remarkably stingy.

Thx for posting this. *memorizes* If you don't mind saying...where did you go? Would you recommend the place?
Pople was a computational chemist, not a MFA :(
You don't know how many times I reread this looking for the typo.
Ditto. Shameful.
I'm about to start my second and final year of an MA in creative writing. I'm fully funded through work as a teaching assistant for the English department's sophomore lit class for non-majors; I'd disagree with the commenter above who said that teaching is never a good idea when working on an MA/MFA. I loved teaching, though it was certainly time-consuming, and it gave me health insurance and a little money, as well as the opportunity to see if I liked it enough to pursue it after I get my degree. This year I'll teach fiction writing in the fall, then stop teaching to work on my thesis in the spring.

The plan was to have two years to finish and revise my second novel. That's worked a little less well than I'd hoped -- it's just plain easier to work on short fiction than novels when dealing with the workshop format -- but I'm done with the first draft of the novel and have begun revising. And I got several short stories done this year, too.

The plan now is to finish this degree with a completed novel ready to send out, and then go straight into the Ph.D. program here, because I am crazy. And because I had more fun in my literature classes this year than in my workshops.

I have an MFA.

I didn't really have a plan beyond not having to be a secretary anymore at least for the three years I was in school, but the lucky result of it was that employers, the classist fuckers, took a look at my Big Fancy Graduate Degree (ignoring that it's basically in Advanced Basketweaving -- no. More useless. I bet it's damn hard to make a basket, and you can sell it when you're done) and decided I was the class of person to pay much better than the same person but without a Big Fancy Graduate Degree. Also, I finally got the writing-related day jobs I'd been angling for because folks figured if I got a graduate degree in something something writing something I must be purty smart at the writing stuff. This said, it didn't result in enough more money that it would have been worth taking out loans. The U of MN offers TA jobs so you don't have to pay tuition. Otherwise no way would it be worth it. Also, if this person writes speculative fiction, s/he can pretty much forget writing that for the 2-3 years it takes to get the degree, except for in a very few rare places.

The friends of mine with MFAs who wanted to teach are all teaching five comp classes -- working more hours than I am but for less pay and no job security. They have no time to write, and they're each and every one miserable, miserable, miserable. So if you want to teach, get a Ph.D. for the luvva god. If you want to be a desk jockey with more pay, consider a graduate degree.

Re: I have an MFA.

Also, I found that I really enjoyed teaching while in school -- I only had to teach one class at a time and it was fun. So I disagree with the Don't Teach commenter and side on the Don't Take $5 Worth of Student Loans for a Useless Degree side.
I'm just finishing up my MFA this semester. Mainly there was a teacher in the program who I wanted to study with - and I got to study with her one-on-one for a whole year, which was great. Plus I encountered another amazing teacher who I'm studying with now. I will probably end up doing some teaching after I graduate, but that wasn't the reason I applied for the program...I just did it for my writing.

Advanced Degrees

They're a VERY GOOD thing. I encourage folks to consider their Five Year Plan and make sure that the degree that they're thinking about fits into the plan. I did the MA program because I wanted to learn more about literature and how it influences our society.
I LOVE to teach - been at it for 30 years and never looked back. The Tenure thing is important, but in my case it wasn't available so that job security hinged on doing research and being valued as a teacher/instructor/professor. The MFA program (I'm an applicant - I'll let you know if it works out) is a way to add depth to teaching, it fills in the corners and as all the other commenters mentioned, it is a way to spend time on writing, learning the craft, and then putting the learning to work.
The MFA has to make sense as a tool, not an end.
my $0.02
Well, I'm glad I don't have a MFA after reading all the commentary. :)
I was in an MFA program before I made the mistake of my life and went after a PhD. I took it into my head that the only thing you can do with an MFA is go back to the same crappy day job you had before, only with a greater burden of discontent.

Not actually true.

The MFA alone won't get you anything, but there are a lot of things you can get with the MFA AND something else, that you can't get without the MFA.

Yeah, there are people who get the good tenured faculty gigs who don't have advanced degrees in English or Creative Writing, but you'll hear the same handful of examples repeated again and again. If you look at the Modern Language Association Joblist, the Associated Writing Programs Joblist, and the Chronicle of Higher Education's Joblist, you'll see that there are, in lean years, dozens of positions requiring the MFA, and in fat years, well over a hundred. The MFA programs of the world produce several hundred people with MFAs in a year, so the degree alone won't get you there, but it's no longer true that the faculty search committees don't care whether you have one. Looking for positions that combined creative writing with lit and composition, I found that many of the job descriptions stated a preference for the MFA over the PhD, and some declared that people without MFAs need not apply, regardless of other qualifications.

I think the reason the MFA has such a bad rap as a degree you can use is that you MUST also have serious publications in order to parlay it into a job. If you don't have a book out or forthcoming from a respected press, it doesn't matter where your degree's from. And getting a first book out is really hard. Most people who pull it off do it by entering their MFA thesis manuscript into many, many first book competitions, which typically charge a $20 reading fee. For a while, I was shelling out $200/month on reading fees, trying to snag a publication that would make me look tenurable. Despite the general controversy over first book competitions, there's not a better system in place, and the reading fees are really the only way the presses can afford to take a risk on an unknown author.

An MFA is useful for a person who:

desires a teaching career for its own sake, not just as a day job,

understands how academia works as an industry and what it takes to thrive there, and yet is not sickened by it,

has the patience and tenacity to endure many, many rejections, both of her writing and of her curriculum vitae,

is able to sit down to write, hear her mind pose the question, "Is this poem/story/novel/play/whatever tenurable?" and yet not be too crippled by revulsion, resentment, or performance anxiety to keep writing kickass work anyway.

If that doesn't describe you, don't go there.

If that does describe you, you stand a real chance of triumphing, no matter how many other people are in the field. Most of them don't meet that description.