It’s now public knowledge that I’m applying to graduate programs for creative writing, home of the Master of Fine Arts. And so I’m here to defend my decision and list the schools to which I’m applying.
A few people have blinked at my announcement, and second-guessed my thinking about this particular career path. The most common objections I’ve heard are that I don’t need a $150,000+ degree to write, that creative writing programs may mold me to a very specific (perhaps stuffy and lame) kind of writer, or that “writing” as a career will leave me begging for change in the streets. I for one enjoy trying to get by on cheese toast, but the first two I’ve taken as serious objections.
As to number one — I don’t need a fancy degree to get a book published. That is 100 percent correct.
But for someone like me, who has wanted to write my own fiction for years but could use a little encouragement and help along the way, a writing program could be a great fit. No one is going to hold my hand just because I’m a student, but seeking an MFA provides a community of people who can give feedback on your writing, practical advice and training from professors who have published their own work, and lots of deadlines, which are always good for motivation.
Crucial to note is that nowadays there are a good number of programs that are fully funded, meaning that tuition is waved, and you even get a small stipend for teaching, or working as an editor for the school. The fact that more and more schools are offering good funding is partially due to pressure from guys like Tom Kealey, author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, who advise prospies to pick schools not on the reputation of the program (although quality of education is obviously important) but largely on the financial aid package awarded. The MFA is becoming a more affordable option to students who want to take out two or three years to find and/or refine their voice and are willing to subject themselves to the critiques of others. If I got accepted into a program that gave me full tuition, it’d be a no-brainer: I’d have to go. Unfortunately, this likely means sacrificing location (my dear NYC) for cost.
The second objection I can’t speak to as much, because I don’t know exactly what workshops and professors at each program are like, plus these factors vary from semester to semester. However, I would think applicants can lessen the chances of a negative experience by reading about the programs, talking to students currently in the MFA track at a school, and reading published material of the program’s graduates before settling on one definitively. There is certainly a risk that the kind of training and feedback you’re looking for is not the training you’ll get, and so it’s an important consideration.
As to the last critique, that writing won’t make me much of a living, I’m fine with that. Most writers teach and edit to supplement their career, and I figure I can pull the pieces together when I need to. After all, I’ve never applied to something based on how much money it would give me. But I am also not one to shun practicality, so it’s worth thinking about the future and about how to make ends meet if I end up pursuing this as a career.
And now for the programs! I won’t rank them since I don’t know who might be reading this (and since the schools aren’t clearly ranked in my mind, anyway), but the long and short of it is that they’re all great. Some are more famous than others or are stronger in certain areas, but I would be honored to go to any of them if I got a substantial financial aid package. It’s not false modesty when I say that I may not get into any school — a couple of these have acceptance rates around one percent. And so I’m just waiting, hoping that at least one works out.
In order of application deadline, here they are:
1) University of Minnesota
2) Ohio State University
3) University of Virginia
4) Syracuse University
5) University of Iowa
6) University of North Carolina, Wilmington
7) University of Montana
8) Florida State University
9) Johns Hopkins University
10) Virginia Commonwealth University
And there you have them!
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about writing programs, and have you ever considered one for yourself? Or if you know any of these schools and/or cities, tell me about them!