Categories
Education and Training

MFA and Writing Resources

Fridays usually mean exercises around here, but I didn’t want to break up the MFA series for that. I may just skip exercises entirely this month. Today, I’m sharing some writing resources with you. The top section is devoted to MFA related items, and the bottom section is things you can use to boost your writing skills without pursuing a degree.

I’m not affiliated with any of these websites. I haven’t received any form of compensation or benefit from posting these links on my website.

MFA Resources

Poets and Writers MFA Programs Database

This is limited to the United States and Canada, and it’s pretty cool. There are several ways to filter your search, and then you can see what programs are available in your area. Click on the university name and you can see the genres, application information, residency, core faculty members, class size, and what kind of funding assistance might be available to students.

The Workshop

A list of fully funded MFA programs in the United States. They also have a list of partially funded MFA programs.

Application advice

A helpful list of things to write (and avoid writing) in your MFA application cover letter.

Getting Letters of Recommendation

A lot of grad school applications require letters of recommendation. Here are some tips on requesting those.

Other Writing Resources

Writers of the Future Writing Workshop

This workshop is free, although you do have to register. It’s all online, with videos and exercises for you to complete in your own time, and you should have a short story by the end. You don’t have to enter it into the Writers of the Future contest, but it’s there if you’re interested.

I’ve started this workshop but I haven’t finished it yet. When I do, I’ll probably write a post about it.

The Super Writers’ Bundle

Note: This is not free, and the price is for one year’s access. David Farland is a bestselling author, the coordinating editor of Writers of the Future, and a writing coach. Some of his former students were authors like Brandon Sanderson and Stephenie Meyer. I usually don’t buy writing workshops online, but I’m really thinking about this one.

Brandon Sanderson on YouTube

The link above is for his playlists. I would recommend both the Writing Advice and the BYU Creative Writing Lectures. Brandon Sanderson is a best-selling author who teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. He’s also involved in Writers of the Future, and I believe he’s talked about writing at panels and conventions as well.

Alexa Donne on YouTube

I love Alexa’s no-nonsense approach to writing. She’s really not afraid to tell harsh truths, but she’s still super supportive of other writers. A lot of her videos talk about traditional publishing, how she got her agent, and things like that. She’s also a creator of Author Mentor Match, which I’ve talked about on the blog before.

There’s a wealth of information out there

I hope these are enough writing resources to get you started, whether you decide to go for an MFA or pursue additional training on your own. Conferences, conventions, and workshops are also options, but I didn’t link to any because I really don’t have anything specific to recommend. You can also look into community education classes at your local college or university.

How is your NaNoWriMo project going? My blogathon is moving right along; tomorrow I have a bad writing rules post for you, so I hope you’ll be back to see that. If you have any comments about today’s post, or any resources you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Categories
Education and Training

Pros and Cons of an MFA Degree

Welcome to day two of our MFA series! Today I want to talk about some of the pros and cons of an MFA degree. Obviously these are the things that stood out most to me, but you should sit down and make your own pro/con list if you’re thinking about pursuing an MFA.

Pros

Instruction

If you’ve never taken a writing class before, this is going to be a whole new world for you. Honestly, I’m not sure you can get into an MFA degree program if you haven’t taken a writing class, but I don’t know. It might be hard at first, but you’ll probably learn a lot if you stick with it. I really can’t go into a whole lot of detail here because it’s going to be a little different no matter where you go. Different programs have different requirements, and of course every instructor is going to have their own teaching style. Just do your best to try and get the most you can out of it. Come to classes prepared and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Structure

Remember how I keep telling you to create a writing routine? Well, all the classes, assignments, and due dates are going to help you do just that. It should also help you learn how to write faster because you will fail your courses if you don’t meet those deadlines. Success will be harder if you don’t come up with some kind of a routine and stick to it. I’m not going to say it’s impossible–I got my undergrad degree by the seat of my pants, after all–but structure can help you succeed if you let it.

If you’re in a low residency or online program, you’ll have to create a lot of this structure for yourself. There will still be assignments and due dates, but managing your time is on you.

Critique Groups

Critique is one of the best teachers. I think I’ve said it here before, and I’ll probably say it again. A good critique is the one of the ways you’ll learn how readers might react to your book before it’s out there in the world. It’s your chance to revise with feedback and write the best book you can.

One of my favorite writing classes was the advanced creative writing I took in high school. The teacher basically gave us free rein to write whatever we wanted, and then class was just a giant critique circle. It was the best. Some people wrote poetry. A couple of the guys were in a band together and shared the songs they wrote with us. One person really liked screenwriting, and even sold a script to a TV show (Frasier maybe? I don’t remember now). I loved our little critique group because we were able to build our work up without tearing each other down. Criticism was offered and accepted respectfully, and the discussions were great.

*I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining about criticism in writing groups recently. Like…It seems like they’re asking for beta readers and then blowing up when their readers point out errors. I can understand being upset if someone tells you your writing is trash and you should quit, but throwing a fit because a reader noticed a grammar mistake is self-defeating. If you are this thin-skinned, you either need to work on that or accept that publishing is not for you. When you put your writing out in the world, you open yourself up to criticism. There’s no getting around that, so you might as well get used to it now. 

Connections

This is more of a possibility than a guarantee, but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway. There’s a good chance that some of your professors will be people who worked at (or with) literary agencies or publishing companies. If they think your work is solid, it’s possible they’ll recommend you to some of their colleagues. Don’t be pushy about it, but don’t be afraid to ask for tips either. The worst they can do is say no.

Cons

I discussed some of the cons yesterday, but I feel like it wouldn’t hurt to go over them in detail today.

Cost

In this case, I’m talking about your money and your time. A lot of MFA programs are expensive, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth. Plus, all the time you’re spending attending classes, reading, writing, and doing other classwork is time that you’re not devoting to other efforts. It’s fine if you happen to have a lot of free time, but if you’re going to have to sacrifice a paying job or time with your family, that’s probably a big minus.

Programs and professors can be hit or miss

There are few things worse than spending a ton of money on schooling and realizing your professor is an idiot. Or at least unqualified to teach a certain subject. I have been down that road, and I’m still mad about it.

Do your research. If you have an MFA program in mind, try to get the names of the professors and look into them before you commit to the program. Look at things they’ve published. Check out their social media. You can also look them up on Rate My Professors.

There are no guarantees

You might put a ton of time and work into an MFA degree and still not land a publishing contract or find work as a writing teacher, editor, or agent. You can always self-publish, but you don’t need a degree to do that. I think that’s probably the biggest con of all–you don’t NEED an MFA to get by in the writing world. It might give some people a leg up, and I’m sure the extra instruction is great, but it isn’t a necessity.

You have to choose what works best for you

Once again, I hope this is useful information for you. If you can think of something I missed, or if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below.

Tomorrow, I’m going to provide a list of resources for you. Some of those will be things you can look into if you want to pursue an MFA degree, and others will be for those of you who’d rather come up with something on your own. I think it’s important for every writer to do whatever they can to improve their craft. Whether that’s a degree program or something else is up to the individual, though.

Categories
Education and Training

Do you need to join an MFA program to be a writer?

Let’s talk about education, specifically MFA programs. I think this is a good time to have this conversation because I can break it up into several parts and not waste almost a month on it. This is a question that comes up from time to time and I wanted to share my thoughts. I’m going to try to be objective, but I have some strong opinions and I’m not going to sugarcoat things.

What is an MFA, anyway?

It’s a graduate degree, a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Loads of places offer them, and they’re all a little different. If you’re thinking about signing up for one, please be sure to do your research. I’m going to try to give you some guidance here, but obviously what works for me won’t apply to everyone.

Things to consider

If you’re thinking about getting a writing degree, it’s a good idea to take a look at what’s available. Don’t sign up for the first Facebook ad you scroll past without taking a minute to see what else is out there. Here are a few things you might keep in mind.

Funds

Believe it or not, there are some fully funded MFA programs. These are free or almost free to students thanks to a scholarship program, graduate assistanceships, tuition waivers, or other support. There are also partially funded MFA programs, where some portion of the expenses are covered, but students have to come up with the rest.

There are downsides, though. The first is that funded programs are very competitive. Funding can fluctuate from year to year due to university budgets, so there’s a limit to the number of students they can accept. My local university is only taking five MFA students next semester, for example. A novice writer might have a hard time getting a spot. The second downside is that you can lose your funding if you have to drop a class or take a semester off or something.

However, definitely give them a try before you resort to taking out student loans to pay for an MFA. You should also apply for grants, scholarships, and other financial aid. This is not a degree where you’re likely to earn back what you spend on it in a short amount of time; most writers don’t earn a living from their writing. You’re not guaranteed a publishing contract or a job after you graduate. If you take out loans with crazy interest rates, you might end up in debt for the rest of your life. (I know I said I would be objective, but I have strong feelings about student loans–and mine weren’t even that bad.)

I’ll post some resources for finding funded programs on Friday, so be sure and come back for that. For today, I still have a few more things you should keep in mind when you’re researching MFA degrees.

Keep your writing goals in mind

A lot of MFA programs focus on certain subjects, like poetry, literary fiction, and creative non-fiction. That may not be helpful if you want to write for children or if you’re into genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc). Again, do some research. Look at what the professors have written. Check out their social media, too.

Also, look at the requirements. My local program has a foreign language prerequisite that some people would probably struggle to meet.

Time

How much time are you willing to put into this? Most MFA programs take 2-3 years to complete. Can you juggle classes with your other responsibilities for that amount of time?

You should also think about whether a full residency, low residency, or online program suits you best. Full residency is traditional college education; you might have to relocate to attend classes in person, but these are the programs that offer full or partial funding. Low residency programs are mostly distance learning, but classes meet in person a couple of times a year, and the amount of time and the meeting location may vary. Tuition might be lower, but there’s less assistance available. You also might be responsible for things like travel expenses or visas and passports depending on where your residency takes place. And of course online programs are conducted over the internet.

The potential is limited

The last thing you need to think about is why you’re doing this. If you just want to be a better writer, this will get you there. However, there are other routes you could pursue that would be cheaper and maybe even faster than signing up for a graduate degree program. I’ll provide some more information about MFA alternatives on Friday.

An MFA will be a big help if you’re thinking about teaching writing. But there really aren’t a whole lot of positions available for creative writing teachers out there, and a lot of what is available goes to candidates with industry experience. Someone who’s worked for an agency or a publishing company has experience that’s more valuable than someone who has a degree, but no practical work experience.

If you’re looking for a job as an editor or a literary agent, you could probably get by with a bachelor’s degree in English, literature, or even communications or journalism. A graduate degree may not be necessary.

An MFA can be beneficial, but it’s not for everyone

I realize this is a lot to keep in mind, but getting a degree is a huge investment of time and money. I’m not trying to talk you out of this if it’s something you really want to do; I know it’s easy to get passionate about this sort of thing, and I think it’s good to consider it from a logical perspective as well as an emotional one. Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the pros and cons of an MFA.

I hope you’re all keeping up with your NaNoWriMo goals. (You can see my NaNoWriMo post here if you missed it the other day.) Good luck! As always, if you have any questions or anything you’d like to add to this, please leave a comment down below. And if you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it with your friends! There are buttons down below, so all you have to do is click. Thanks so much!