My third installment in the MFA Mondays series on the benefits and practicalities of getting an MFA in Creative Writing covers the issue of finding the time to pursue on an MFA in the midst of an already busy life.
Q (Alison): Did you work full-time and go to school? Or were you able to focus on school full-time? How much time did you spend each week on school work – reading, writing, studying, working with other students, etc.?
A: I did work full-time in a rather demanding consulting job while I was getting my MFA. I also have a family and was the main breadwinner, so going to school full-time was not an option. I would say I spent 15-20 hours a week on school work.
Finding the time for school work was actually not that hard: Mainly I had to write but I was already a writer and in the habit of getting up at five to write. Once I was in the program, I did dedicate most of my Fridays to writing (I was lucky enough to be on a four-day work week.). One benefit of the Queens MFA program is that it is solely a studio program, i.e. focused on your work, and you do not have to write academic essays. I did not want that; I already had two Master’s degrees and had done my share of academic writing. I wanted to focus on my craft and Queens allowed me to do that.
Fitting the reading in wasn’t that hard either because again, I was already a reader. I read on the train, in bed, on the weekends. It just meant that during the MFA program I had to read assigned books rather than books I would have picked myself but that as part of getting an education. It broadens your horizon.
Lastly, making time to read and critique my classmates’ work was something I was already used to since I’d been part of a writing group for several years. I did have to give up that group, though. I simply could not keep up with two cycles of commitments.
Another consideration was the length of the residencies. With a family I could not devote my entire vacation time for two years to attending residencies, so the fact that at Queens the residencies are seven days worked well for me. A lot of low-residency programs have 10-day residencies which would have eaten up all my vacation time.