Welcome to the second day of March Book Madness! (For a complete schedule and explanation, see below this post.)
Today I have my wonderful sister-in-law, critique partner, and friend, Sarah Belliston as a guest presenter. Sarah was one of the first people who read my first manuscript, the first to give me encouragement in writing. Seven years later, her input and suggestions on my writing are invaluable. Plus, she puts up with me in so many ways.
I love her.
Sarah has written several novels and stories and she’s a regular contributor on grammarist.com. She graduated from BYU with a degree in English, and she was recently accepted into an MFA program in Kansas. I’m very excited for her–and me, since I plan to live vicariously through her. :)
So here she is.
5 Reasons to Get (or Not Get) Your MFA by Sarah Belliston
The decision whether or not to get a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a big one. I have helpfully given you 5 reasons to get one, and, not so helpfully, 5 reasons NOT to get one.
5 reasons to get your MFA
1) You could get paid to do it. No, seriously, you could. Most programs have funding in the form of scholarships or teaching assistants. At my local university, the teaching comes with tuition reimbursement and a monthly stipend, which means if you get in and if you get the job, the university is paying you to get your MFA. Not too shabby.
2) Sometimes you are only as good as your critique group. And let’s be honest, it can be hard to find writing partners that have the right yin to your yang. Odds of finding a critique partner that will help you grow as an author are better among a pool of people that have the chops to get admitted to an MFA program.
3) Deadlines. Some people are self-starters, and others rely on taskmasters to get things done. If you are the latter, an MFA program is a built-in writing schedule. Your thesis is your book. You are required to work on it, make time for it, and give it your best. People will be reading your stuff, which means you had better write…stuff.
4) Looks nice on a resume. Agents and editors may say they don’t care about your qualifications, but a query with an MFA looks better than a query with nothing. Just sayin’.
5) It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And an MFA program is full of people who know people. From the literary journal the university produces to faculty with friends in New York, it may just the right foot in the door your book needs to make it into print.
And here’s where I turn into Debbie Downer.
5 reasons NOT to get your MFA
1) The Internet. Fiction is taught in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) by some of the top programs in the country. For free. If you are clever with a search engine, you can find the syllabi for courses and see what books they are teaching out of (Spoiler: usually a How to Write Fiction book). Anything your faculty is going to teach you, you can teach yourself in all those hours you have that don’t match up to a full-time program, which brings me to my next point.
2) It takes time. Years in fact. At least 2 ½, if not more. Time spent writing papers and analyses, sitting in class, taking tests. Time some people don’t have because of full-time jobs, small children at home, or just life. All of it is time you could spend, you know, actually writing.
3) Money. Let’s say you aren’t lucky enough to get scholarships or other funding. No one in the writing world will advise you to take out student loans for an MFA. There is less than 1% likelihood you will make that money back. (I totally made up that number, but that doesn’t make it false.)
4) Those who can’t do, teach. Some teachers of fiction are amazing and do it to give back to the community, but…some are just doing it to pay the bills, or because no one has yet seen the brilliance of their 10,000 page stream of conscience novel about a cat…on xanax. You may get stuck with a bad teacher, or two, or three, depending on your program. People who will say your stuff sucks simply because it doesn’t look like theirs (i.e., no cats). You don’t need that. No one does.
5) Words are all that matter. And words are going to sell your book in the end. Not an MFA or any other degree. For years people made their words good enough without an MFA. And you can too.
My point is this:
Get an MFA if you want to get an MFA. Don’t get one if what you really want is a book deal, agent, or to be rich and famous. (If it’s the last, you might want to reconsider your career choice as well.) An MFA is not guaranteed to do any of those things.
An MFA WILL give you structure and someone else to show you the ropes, it will give you a higher education degree at the end of it, and people do make it feasible for starving writers. So, if you are one of THOSE people that actually miss the classroom (note: that some time needs to be spent away from the classroom to know if you miss it) then look up your local schools, call the English department and ask about funding, and get to the library to brush up on your standardized testing (aka the GRE).
What do you think of MFA programs? Have you attended one? Graduated? Want to attend? Share your thoughts here.
Sarah Belliston was a teacher’s pet (not a cat), loves the smell of books, and sided with the top half of this article.
She will be starting an MFA program this fall.
Previous March Book Madness Posts:
Make sure to check back on Tuesday, March 10, for our next guest presenter, Danyelle Ferguson, author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel and Sweet Confections. She’ll be discussing some unique tips on setting up successful blog tours.
MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
Welcome to the fourth year of March BOOK Madness. Every Tuesday and Thursday in March, I invite several fellow authors to share their thoughts on the writing world, basically giving them an open mic to talk about anything book-ish.
2015 MARCH BOOK MADNESS SCHEDULE
- Tue, Mar 3: Intro and 3 Tips to Balance Writing Time, by Rebecca Belliston
- Thu, Mar 5: Top 5 Reasons To Get (or Not Get) Your MFA, by Sarah Belliston
- Tue, Mar 10: Unique Tips for Successful Blog Tours by Danyelle Ferguson
- Thu, Mar 12: Writing–A Hobby or a Career? by Charity Bradford
- Tue, Mar 17: The Importance of Book Reviews by Charissa Stastny
- Thu, Mar 19: 6 Reasons Why Genre Matters by Tricia Pease
- Tue, Mar 24: 7 Editing Strategies by A. L. Sowards
- Thu, Mar 26: Writer’s Block? Using Mind Mapping by Chris Rosche
- Tue, Mar 31: So You Want to Write Funny? by JoLynne Lyon
2014 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Our Connection to Book Covers and the Characters Within, by Danyelle Ferguson
- Four Essential Elements of Good Writing, by Gerald N. Lund
- Welcome to Niche-land! by JoLynne Lyon
- Developing Plot and Characters Together, by Tricia Pease
- ”Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” by Sarah Belliston
- Using Repetition To Improve Your Book by A.L. Sowards
- Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group, by Charity Bradford
- The Moral of the Tale, by Christopher Rosche
- Querying: The Method to the Madness, by Chantele Sedgwick
- Creating Context Clues, by Charissa Stastny
- 6 Places to Find Novel Ideas, by Janice Hardy
- Avoiding Didacticism in Our Writing, by Braden Bell
2013 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Weeding Your Words, by Charissa Stastny
- Know Your Audience–Even the Subtle One, by Cindy Piper
- Beating a Dead Horse, by Julie L Casey
- Why Everyone Should Be a Writer, by Sharon Belknap
- Reading in the Digital Age, by JoLynne Lyon
- The Art of Accepting Criticism, by Mary Bateman-Mercado
- Pinterested in Books, by Sarah Belliston
- The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche
- Never Pity the Adverb, by Anthony Mercado
- Creating Flawed but Likeable Characters, by A.L. Sowards
- Priorities and Choices for Writers, by Braden Bell
- Premise vs Plot – Which Do You Have? by Janice Hardy
2012 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Tips on Querying, by Lynn Wiese Sneyd
- Plotting vs. Plodding, by Tobi Summers
- 10 Marketing Tips, by JoLynne Lyon
- 8 Editing Tips by Cassie Mae
- Editing, by Jessica Khoury
- Reading for Writers, by Tricia Pease
- For the Love of Reading, by Sharon Belknap