Actually the title is in the incorrect order of importance, if you’re a writer that is. I just wanted to get your attention with mention of my favorite treat.
Naturally the most important part of being a writer is, well, writing. Writing is learned by doing, and redoing, and starting over again. You can learn the basics, and most Americans do in order to graduate from high school. Writers take the foundations of our language and marry them with imagination and perspiration to create a story or a poem or an article or all the many things that writers write.
But you may reach a point, as I did, of plateau. In spite of encouraging responses to fiction submissions, in spite of selling magazine articles and poems, in spite of winning awards for unpublished authors I found being successful with fiction to be elusive. I have joined many writing groups both local and national. I had a marvelous critique group and critique partners who guided me. In the end, I hit a wall. I wanted to be a better writer and decided that I needed more structure and discipline in order to do so. Pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree, an MFA, in writing seemed like the natural next step.
Choosing an MFA program can be daunting, there are loads to choose from.
However, before you choose a program, take some time to decide if actually working towards this degree is right for you. What do you expect to gain from the time and effort you put into it? To that end, here are five pros and cons of entering into an MFA program.
Starting with the cons, because I want to end on an upbeat:
- It’s expensive. Graduate degrees are. You will either need to get a student loan or work extra to afford it. Decide if the time and money will be worth the end result.
- There is no guarantee that having the degree will get you the publishing contract or the teaching job at the college or anything.
- The program you choose may be a poor fit for you as a writer and as a person.
- Unless the program is in your home town or a reasonable drive from where you live, you may have to relocate.
- Top authors who teach at your program may not be the best teacher or mentor.
One the positive side:
- You get to concentrate on your passion, your writing.
- You will create a strong network of like minded writers.
- Traditional programs versus low residency programs abound. There’s a lot to choose from.
- The best programs engage top notch faculty who will challenge and engage and motivate you.
- The best MFA programs will take you out of your comfort zone, you will be challenged in ways you never saw coming and you will be a better writer for it.
So you’ve decided that yes, you do want to get this degree… where to start? Are you a literary writer or do you long to publish in romance? Does the art and craft of writing children’s picture books feel like what you are meant to do or is the particular skill needed to write for a teen audience what really grabs you? Is there a literary void you believe your unique voice can fill? Once you’ve narrowed that down, consider whether you want a traditional college classroom setting or would be comfortable in a low residency program or even a program with online classes.
Since there are so many MFA programs to choose from here are a couple of links that will help you narrow down the field:
I’ve had discussions with writers who think getting a Master of Fine Arts degree is a waste of time and money. In my case, the rigors of the coursework, the friends I made during the program, and the delight in setting a difficult goal and seeing it through made it worthwhile. My MFA is in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College, at the time affiliated with Norwich University in Montpelier, Vermont. The low residency program was a perfect fit for me. Since earning my degree in 2001 I have gone on to publish two children’s picture books, one of which won an EPPIE for best children’s or young adult ebook. One of my classmates is now a publisher of children’s nonfiction and my continuing friendship with her has garnered me a place as one of her nonfiction authors of the America’s Notable Women series. I continue to write poetry. Shortly after I started the program, my first romance novel was published and I went on to publish many more.
It all started with wanting to be a better writer. That’s what it should be about. Where you go from there is up to you. Once you decide, have a piece of lovely chocolate, pat yourself on the back, and get yourself back to the keyboard. After all, you are a writer.
Karin Huxman writes for children as K.D. Huxman, you can find her picture books, Dragon Talk and Grizzelda Gorilla at Kittycatbooks.com. She contributed to Women of the Prairie State: 25 Women You Should Know and Women of the Empire State: 25 Women You Should Know, from Apprentice Shop Books. Her romance novels are published by New Concepts Publishing, her most recent release being a reissue of her paranormal romance With an Open Mind, re-titled as Extrasensory Perception. On the web find K.D. Huxman at kdhuxman.wordpress.com and Karin Huxman can be found at myivorytower-karin.blogspot.com. Besides chocolate, Karin enjoys wine, walking and of course reading.