Mastering the Fine Arts

As my graduate education nears its end — I’ve finished my fourth year of university, and have but three more courses to take in the fall before graduating with a BFA with Honours in Creative Writing — a lot of people have asked me if I’ll be continuing my studies in a master’s degree. Several of my good friends are doing so, or have done so, and it seems the natural thing to do for an academically-minded person like me. Certainly I used to think that I’d get more degrees, if just to be able to say I did it.

However, getting an MFA in Creative Writing is not on my radar — not for the foreseeable future. And there are a few reasons for this.

YA author Maureen Johnson talks about the pros and cons of getting an MFA in writing in a blog post, and explains why she doesn’t recommend it. And I have to say I agree with some of her points.

One of the major reasons one might want a master’s degree (of any type) is to enhance a resume. This is all fine and noble — for most careers. In writing, it won’t help you at all, unless you want to teach. Everything I’ve seen and read over the last little while says that editors and agents don’t care if you have an MFA. They don’t care about your resume. They just care about your writing. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between having an MFA and writing bad queries (which of course doesn’t imply causation, but still).

Getting an MFA also costs a boatload of money. Which I don’t have. And I don’t like being in debt.

MFAs in Creative Writing also don’t tend to focus on anything about the publishing industry, instead being more of what I did in my BFA — writing workshops. Which is great, but there are other things I need to know to be a writer. Things that are better learned out in the real world.

With this in mind, the only good reason I’d want to take an MFA is to improve my writing (which seems like the logical reason to take a master’s, but as Maureen Johnson notes, isn’t always the case). And I have no doubt that two years of writing in an MFA program will do that. However, I have equally little doubt that two years of writing will improve my writing regardless of the setting. I’m not sure how much more the program could do for me.

I don’t mean that out of arrogance. I know my writing needs improvement. (Lots of it.) But I’m not sure the school setting can give me anything to that end that I can’t get anyway. I have a firm foundation from my BFA in workshops, and critiquing other people’s writing, and trying to be objectively analytical about my own writing (it’s impossible, but I can try). I know the kinds of things I need to looks for, improve on, practice.

What I need now is just to keep doing it. Keep writing, keep practicing. And I don’t need to spend thousands of dollars more for that. What I do need is more experience. More life — and more life outside of school. Then, maybe someday I will be ready for an MFA in creative writing.

But just as likely, maybe I’ll want an education in something else. Broaden my knowledge. Over the last few months, I’ve become increasingly interested in transmedia, publishing, and ebooks, and I’m thinking that transmedia is where I want my life to go (alongside novel-writing, of course). Maybe I’ll take a master’s related to that instead — something in media, production, or the like.

If other people take an MFA in Creative Writing (as many good friends do), I don’t hold it against them — as long as they’re doing it because it’s the right thing for them.

Right now, I just don’t think it’s the right thing for me.

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