Should you do your MFA in writing?

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Should you do your MFA in writing? I discuss a blog post on the topic….

My most senior degree is an undergrad one: an honours Bachelor of Arts in political science (1979). I had to write a thesis so I understand something about the demands of the academy. But the thought of getting an MFA in writing has honestly never crossed my mind. Why on earth would I want to go back to school?

Some of my clients ask me about the value of an MFA and I always say in depends. If you want to teach in a writing department at a university, it will be a necessary first step. Most places will require you to have at least a Master’s degree before you can teach.

But if you’re doing the degree to increase your odds of success in the publishing business, you may be making a mistake.

Author Susan DeFreitas (pictured above), who holds an MFA herself, offers a thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of an MFA in a post on writer Jane Friedman’s blog. It appears under the headline, 3 Critical Things You Won’t Learn in an MFA Program.

Here are her three key reasons for arguing that an MFA may not be in your best interest:

1. Agents and acquisitions editors don’t read the same way peers and mentors do.

2. It’s a numbers game. [you need to make frequent submissions]

3. “Comps” aren’t just for the marketing department. [you can learn more by becoming a copycat]

And in plain English, here’s how she puts it:

I know how hard it is to have all the education in the world and still feel like you have no idea what you’re doing….Until you really know what you’re dealing with in this industry, it’s easy to find yourself paralyzed by self-doubt, second guessing yourself and your work ad infinitum.

Schools will inevitably focus on issues that schools can handle. You’ll be assigned reading, you’ll need to write papers and you’ll get to critique the work of others. But will any of that help you in the publishing world? Maybe not.

Consider taking your money (in fact, far less than a degree would cost you) and go spend it on a writing coach, an editor, or building a new platform for yourself such as a website or a blog. Those concrete steps are far more likely to help you get published.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Sept. 23/19.

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