"Should I get an MFA?" -- that's a recurring question that comes up from the aspiring writers that I meet a lot.
I don't have an MFA in Creative Writing. Like quite a few novelists these days, I have an MFA in Dramatic Writing (writing for stage and screen). I've spoken here before about why I made the switch from screenwriting and playwriting to novel writing, but even if I had known how it would all turn out, I would have still chosen to get my MFA in Dramatic Writing. Why? Well, Dramatic Writing teaches you all the lessons that most Creative Writing MFAers have to learn the hard way: how to structure, how to outline, how not to waste your audience's time or money, and how to write on deadline. Dramatic Writing MFA programs also tend to be more business-focused.
I think a Dramatic Writing MFA was just perfect for me. But that doesn't mean it's for everyone. There are plenty of bestselling novelists, who don't have MFAs, but are so in tune with story and perhaps more importantly, their intended audience, that really, they could teach MFA programs a thing or two. At the same time, most of this millenium's Pulitzer winners have Creative Writing MFAs.
So really, the trick is knowing both your weaknesses and your goals. Do you have a bad habit of rambling on? Do you find beginnings, middle, and ends a bit tricky? Do your overall storytelling skills need work? Then consider an MFA in Dramatic Writing.
When you dream of being a big-time writer, do you see yourself giving acceptance speeches for prestigious prizes? Do you love the study of craft? Do you love it enough to want to teach it to other people? Then consider an MFA in Creative Writing.
Do you want to make lots of money? Do you have actual stories with beginnings, middles, and ends that you're just burning to tell? Are you a natural storyteller? Like when you tell a story at a party, do people let you get the whole thing out without interrupting? Then you might want to just skip the MFA, pick up 10 craft books in your chosen genre and just go for it.
Do you plan to write a certain kind of fiction about a certain kind of subject? Then consider getting an advanced degree in that subject. For example, bestseller, Daniel H. Wilson has an advanced degree from the same university as me -- but in Robotics. Wanna guess what he writes about? I just love a sci-fi writer who has a degree in physics, or a mystery writer who used to be a cop. John Grisham, the former lawyer, has slung a few law-centered books, hasn't he? Don't be afraid to get a career education in whatever you'd like to write about.
Most of all, don't get an MFA, just because you think that's what you ought to do. Consider your goals, and educate yourself accordingly.
But now I'm going to kick it to the other authors in our group. How did you decide to MFA or not to MFA? Let us know in the comments.
image credit: QuintanaRoo