Monday, November 11, 2013

What Do You Think About MFAs?

First off, I have to announce that I have two FANTASTIC new authors!  Congrats to Nicole Trilivas and Kara Tatelbaum!  Very excited about them and their books.  Nicole is my first New Adult author and Kara came to me through a mutual friend, editor Kendra Levin from Viking, and has a great dance memoir.

They are very talented and decided to write for the thrill of it, which brings me to my topic of the day: MFAs.  Some people have them; some people don't.  Some can't stop raving about them; some people think they are useless.  What do you think?

I'm really interested to hear peoples' opinions on this.  An advanced degree in creative writing doesn't necessarily mean that you can write well, but it is certainly helpful in learning to craft a story.  It's like having a big, professional critique group.  As it says on DIY MFA (for whom I did an interview a long time ago that I don't think was ever posted), all you need is to write, read, and have a community.  And if you're going to have these things, why not have them come with a Master's Degree?

I've been to a mixer hosted by Columbia's MFA program and met some interesting people there, and I can see the potential benefit of involving yourself in those kinds of programs, but as an agent, I don't automatically go "OOOOH, shiny!" when I receive a query from someone who has an MFA.  It's an indicator that the writing will probably be good, but I still want to judge that for myself.

I have, however, recently learned that having an MFA is a necessity if you want to do something like work as a professor of creative writing at a university.  Makes sense.  So then: is the purpose of an MFA in creative writing to give you the tools necessary to teach creative writing or is it to make you a writer?


  1. Well, considering that there are tons of great writers out there who don't have MFAs, or even degrees in English or something related to writing, it's certainly not necessary. I certainly believe it can help make you a better writer, especially if you spend a lot of the time actually writing and receiving (and giving) constructive criticism on your work. Of course, as a guy with a degree about as far removed from creative writing as you can get who is trying to become a published author, I may be a little biased.

    And congratulations on two new clients! You're building up quite the list!

  2. I'm in the same boat as Jeff - although my degree did involve writing, it was more academic than creative. If one of the perks of taking an MFA program is the big critique group, I think thath could be found online as well, although it might take some searching to find the right one. I can see how having an MFA would be great for teaching writing - I bet people who have been through the program really learn how to provide nuanced critiques to other writers, and how to phrase them positively.

  3. I've always been sort of proud of the fact that I didn't have an MFA, but I am now pursuing one because I want a full-time university teaching position. In Japan, a master's degree is essential for this, and I figured that I may as well get a degree in something that I enjoy. It's expensive, but I'm loving it. And no, I don't think it's essential for writers to have an MFA.

  4. The authors who inspired me most don't have MFAs. That said, I do think the extended study certainly helps a writer stay focused on the craft. In the information age, I think literature is suffering. Too many writers are rushing their work, producing novels and non-fiction tailored for readers with low attention spans. Everywhere I see readers and writers saying "it moves along quickly, I like that" and it makes me cringe. Literature shouldn't change to accompany fast lives. One of the reasons I read is to slow things down; to recharge. Too many authors move things along too quickly now, before they ever learned the art of saying a great deal in a short space.

    I'm on the cusp of my last year as an English major, but before that I studied journalism, so I learned to be succinct. If I didn't have the journalism experience I'd want the creative writing MFA.