… that is the ongoing debate. Creative-writing MFA programs are springing up in epidemic proportions. During the last century, 84 were founded, with about half of those launched in the 1990’s. Since 2000, another 118 programs have been born, with more on the way. Every year, these 200+ programs turn out approximately two thousand poets, two thousand fiction writers, and five hundred to a thousand nonfiction writers. (Stats borrowed from Seth Abramson, who authors Poets & Writers annual MFA program rankings.)
The question is, what are these newly minted writers and poets doing with their degrees? Are they getting jobs? Teaching? Publishing? Are the degrees helping them make a living as writers? Is an MFA degree in creative writing worth the time and expense? The answer to this last question has been hotly debated, and there is not enough room in this post for me to enter the fray, but if you Google “can creative writing be taught,” “should creative writing be taught,” “is the MFA in creative writing worth the expense,” or any variation on the theme, you will find plenty of fuel for both sides of the debate, and you can then make an informed decision.
For me, the degree was worth it. I don’t want to teach, and I’m not dependent upon writing-generated income to make a living (I know, I’m lucky in that respect), but I do want to be the best writer I can be. I do want my work to be widely read and appreciated, and I think spending two years under the mentorship of a highly accomplished faculty will help me realize these goals.
So, in sum, if you’re considering an MFA degree, first map out your writing goals (this is the sixth mixed metaphor I’ve used, for those who are counting), study both sides of the debate to see if the degree will serve you well, then find a program that offers what you need. I write genre fiction. Dennis Lehane, who has elevated the detective and crime genres to great heights, was (and still is) a faculty member at Pine Manor College in Boston, so applying to PMC was a no-brainer.
And speaking of Pine Manor College, it is now time for a shameless plug (see the youtube video below). It really is one of the best MFA programs in the country, but don’t take my word for it. Read Seth Abramson’s latest rankings in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of Poets & Writers.
If you’re interested in my personal experience at PMC, contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.
I stumbled upon this article while googling, “Is an MFA worth it?” I like how the way you said that the value of an MFA is different for everyone, depending on their goals. It’s so hotly debated between yes or no, so I like this middle ground. I’m a college undergrad writing mostly historical fiction and want to get my feet with with mystery or suspense and I’m worried about how much literary writing is emphasized in MFA programs. As a mystery author, what are your thoughts on that? If I do get one, I’ll probably do one down the line after I’ve worked for a few years and I’m considering a genre fiction MFA from a low residency program. Thanks!
Hi Lauren. Thanks for the comment. I like your idea of getting some writing experience under your belt so you can find out where your talents and interests lie. Then, if you want to pursue an MFA, find a program that is strong in those areas. It is true that many traditional programs emphasize the literary elements in their fiction courses, thus making it less than ideal for the genre writer. But if you do some research, you’ll find programs that teach the craft of writing without fixating on literary versus genre. Look for faculty members who have published in a genre of interest to you. Talk to former or current students and ask them if the genre writers are embraced or treated like lepers. You can even call the program director, tell him or her where your interests lie, and ask them if you would fit in. I hope this helps, and I wish you success in your writing endeavors.