- Learn the craft
I’m sure the content and philosophy of MFA programs varies immensely. However, odds are that they will all teach you the craft of writing. In my program I learned craft through workshops, craft classes, and directed reading classes.
- Develop discipline
You will develop a discipline of writing, because you will have to. Whether it’s producing material for workshops, or writing papers for your craft or directed reading classes, you will be writing. Often, and within deadlines.
- Develop reading skills
You will learn to read like a writer, analyzing published works to determine how the author or poet handled various elements.
- Enjoy time to write and hone your skills
Your time in an MFA program is devoted to developing and honing your skills as a writer. I found it difficult to free up time to write on a consistent basis before enrolling in the MFA program – other commitments seemed to take priority. However, once I registered (and paid my money) I was able to commit a certain amount of time daily to writing.
- Experiment, take risks, test material
You can play around with new forms, study a second or third genre, or try playwriting when you are primarily a non-fiction writer (for example), all in a supportive environment. Critiques of that material by your colleagues will help you analyze the success of your experiments.
Whether you enroll in a low residency or traditional program, you will form relationships with other writers – faculty and students alike. Those connections and friendships will continue after you graduate. They will provide you with support and lessen the isolation of a writer’s life.
- Introduction to the industry
Your MFA program may introduce you to published writers, editors, agents and other professionals in the writing community. Through them you will learn about publishing, markets for your work, self-promotion, platforms and more.
An MFA can lead to opportunities to teach creative writing.
Yes, you can develop the skills mentioned above, find a community of writers and learn about the industry without pursuing an MFA. The advantage for me, in addition to the group of quirky and fun writers I now call my friends, was that the MFA was one-stop shopping. Had I tried to replicate the course content and learning experience on my own, I wouldn’t have known where to begin.
Initially I enrolled in my MFA program for two reasons – to learn the craft and to hang out with some really cool people. By the time I earned the degree, I had benefited in many other ways as well.
I’m interested in your views on MFAs:
If you have an MFA or are pursuing one, what were your reasons for enrolling?
Did your MFA give you benefits you didn’t expect when you first enrolled?
If you opted not to pursue an MFA, what were your primary reasons?
One of the benefits of a rigorous MFA program is that the process of working with editors and getting published is demystified. By the time you graduate, you have a good understanding what you can expect, ask for, live with and walk away from. And you’ll always have company/support in the primal scream room (at least at Whidbey).
Another benefit of a rigorous MFA program is that the people in your classes aren’t only cool, but they’re equally committed to the craft of writing – for themselves and their classmates. I’m finding that raises the bar a little higher for the kind of critique I give and receive. And that helps us all improve.
Grier, you’re right. I found I wasn’t totally at sea when I first ventured into the area of conferences and meeting agents and editors, thanks to the preparation we enjoyed at Whidbey.
Iris, that’s a great observation. And I found that as you get to know your colleagues and their work, you can trust their comments on your work. Sometimes that is the trickiest thing — figuring out whose comments to accept and whose are off-point!