Monday, July 18, 2011

MFA Q&A: Is Pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing Right for You?

Thanks to my blogging friend Alison Law, I'll be running a little Q&A series on the benefits and practicalities of getting an MFA in Creative Writing. So Mondays will be MFA Mondays here for a few weeks. Questions are by Alison, answers are by me, based on my experience of obtaining an MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte. Later installments will also include perspectives from fellow alumni and graduates of other MFA programs. My first installment covers the prerequisites of an MFA.

Q (Alison): Is [an MFA] the right pursuit for people who aspire to write books?

A (Annette): Not necessarily. The vast majority of people who publish books probably do not have an MFA. During the program, you do need to complete a “thesis,” namely a book-length manuscript, so in that sense it definitely pushes you towards writing a longer work. When I started my MFA program, I couldn’t even conceive of writing more than 10 pages!

Q: Teach writing at the college level?

A: Depends on what kind of writing. For teaching creative writing, an MFA is almost always required. Some programs even want a PdD. But many successful writers have been hired to teach college solely because of the success of their books. For teaching college composition, many colleges, even junior colleges, require an M.A. in English, and consider an MFA insufficient. For example, the City Colleges of Chicago initially wouldn't hire me to teach English composition because in their eyes an MFA is not enough; I had to get my old degree from the University of Munich reevaluated and thankfully I had enough credits for it to qualify as an MA in English. Another junior college hired me to teach English comp with the MFA, no problem, so did Kaplan University where I still teach.

Q: Want to be more marketable in their current freelance writing careers?

A: I doubt it. In freelance writing, publications (clips) count more than anything else.

Q: Beyond strong writing skills, what characteristics will make students successful in an MFA program? Is anyone a bad candidate for the MFA?

A: If you don’t know what a deadline is, you’re a bad candidate for an MFA program. Being in an MFA program means working in a community of writers, which means you give and you take. I was lucky in that all of the students in my workshop groups were conscientious, but some of my friends ended up in groups with space cadets and it was terrible for everyone.

Q: How did you decide what to submit as your 10 or 25-page writing submission? Did you have the beginnings of a memoir all ready to go? 

A: No, I didn’t have a memoir ready to go, if you mean a book length manuscript. But I did have an essay published by then, which I submitted. I also submitted a short memoir that had won a prize so I knew it was good.


  1. Thanks for this post! I gave you a shout out on my blog today. You're one of my favorite Word-teacher-blogs.

  2. Here I'll be every Monday. Front and center, notebook open, pen poised. I'm considering low-residency MFA programs for non-fiction. I know I need another degree like I need a hole in the head, but I still have not had success in finding a useful writing group who could answer lingering questions about memoir writing or really push me more on other pieces in my pile of unfinished work. I would hope an MFA program would fit my needs. Meanwhile, I'll continue my independent studies at the College of Annette Gendler.

  3. This is such a great post! I've been toying with going 'back to school' to get my Masters- and I've been debating on what to pursue...this post helps to make things a bit clearer...and pushes me forward on this decision process.

  4. Shelly - thanks for the shout-out and the compliment.

    Julie - you crack me up! If there are any low-res MFA questions I don't answer, please feel free to ask! As I told Alison before, I have lots of opinions on that topic.

    Anjuli - keep me posted on how it goes with that decision.

  5. I'm finally catching up with posts, and I saved this to come back to. So glad I did. Like Anjuli, I've been contemplating a Masters. There are so many choices and paths.

    I look forward to future posts on this topic!