Many writers get a degree in creative writing. Should you? Why or why not?
Daniel posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi Randy, Just wondering what your thoughts are on this. I have started to write my first novel, have all the characters, what I think is a good storyline and it’s all coming together nicely, and I’m really enjoying it too.I am considering doing an Associate degree in arts (creative writing) or a Bachelor of Arts degree. Do you think this study which will take two to three years to complete will be worth it to expand my knowledge in the creative writing field or will it be a waste of my time and energy. Looking forward to your reply, Daniel.
Randy sez: A lot depends on you and what your goals are in life. I don’t have a degree in creative writing. I’ve sometimes thought it would be fun to get an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). A few of my novelist friends have done that. I may do it someday.
Here are the reasons I haven’t done it so far:
- Time. It takes time to put into a degree program. There are plenty of low-residency MFA programs where you only have to be on campus for short periods of time every few months. But you still need to put in the hours at home. And I have lots of other things that I want to spend time doing.
- Money. This is the same as time, because time really is money for me. (Not for everyone, obviously. If you don’t need to work, then you aren’t trading your time for money.)
- I don’t need it. My impression is that most people who get an MFA are looking to write literary fiction, not commercial fiction. I don’t write literary fiction and don’t plan to, so an MFA won’t help me there. It might help me write a better grade of commercial fiction, but so would rereading any of the writing books on my shelf.
The bottom line is that I don’t want it enough to take the time and spend the money. But if I did want it, then I’d find the time and I’d scrape the money. When you want something bad enough, you do what it takes to make it happen.
Daniel, you don’t say if your aim is to write literary fiction or commercial fiction (or that rarest of all birds, the commercial literary novel). If you want to write literary fiction and if you have the time and the money, then I’d say to go get that degree.
By the way, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a useless degree. There may be useless people who get degrees, but a degree in anything, no matter how abstract, can be useful. I earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics years ago. Quantum field theory. Non-abelian gauge theories. Schwinger-Dyson equations. Solitons. Constrained systems. All that stuff. It was fun and I enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t use any of it now, but I’d never call it wasted time. It’s part of who I am. It taught me to think analytically. It got me a running start in doing software development. My eight years of training in theoretical physics (six in a Ph.D. program, two as a postdoc) made it possible for me to write fiction with realistic scientists as characters. I got what I wanted out of my education — a pretty clear understanding of how the universe works.
Be aware that you’ll probably learn a lot more about marketing your work at a writing conference than in an MFA program. You’ll probably also learn a lot more about how to find an agent and how the publishing industry works. I base this on comments I’ve had from a friend of mine who has an MFA and is often asked to do guest lectures to MFA students.
So if you want a degree in creative writing, go get it. Education is worth having. You don’t have to justify it to anyone.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Christophe Desmecht says
Many of the greatest pieces of literature were written in times when no such degrees existed. That doesn’t mean they can’t help. Like Randy said, any form of education can help you specialize in an area, which then gives you a bigger pool of inspiration you can dip into when writing your story. While I don’t think you have to be expert on the science/theorics of your novel, you do (I feel) have to be an expert on your backstory. That is most important of all.
Andrew Pike says
This is an excellent quick discussion on the topic of the usefulness of degrees.
I have an English degree myself, and it has been a long arduous journey, and at many points during and after I’ve asked myself “what is the POINT of this?”
As Randy mentions, you don’t have to justify your degree to anyone, and you will pick up valuable skills that will help you out down the line. For me, I thrived writing essays and I got in the habit of documenting thoughts very thoroughly. This has lent itself over nicely to creating documents containing background information (like character documents, theme documents, etc.)
Getting a degree is an epic journey in itself, one in which you will probably change as a person. As Randy suggests: if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. What I think you need to do, Daniel, is to measure your priorities and determine what you want more right now; the degree, or the novel?
In my case, I have delayed work on a novel series due to studies (now completed), and I have to say that if you are set on writing a novel and you have ideas for that, the last thing you want to do is become a full-time student because it will take ALL your time from your writing. It’s not really feasible, unless you’re a workaholic, and even then it seems to me like it would be difficult.
A degree may benefit you, yes, but to be honest save the satisfaction you’ll get from finishing a degree, you can learn everything you need without paying an institution. Sites like this one will teach you the hands-on approach you need, and ultimately you will learn your own tricks from reading canonical works of literature (the kind of thing you’d be doing in an arts degree anyway).
Ultimately I would say yes, there is value in getting a degree, but IMO you should only do it when you are ready and it is your top priority in life.
Lorines MartineZ says
Thanks for this you answer all of my questions. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 I my self want to write a novel and wasn’t sure if I should get a degree first.
Val Clark says
I have a Masters in Creative writing. Like you said, Randy, it was biased towards lit fic, and I don’t write lit fic. After the Masters I moved states, joined a writers’ centre and became a workshop junkie, and belonged to two critique groups, that’s where I developed my craft over the next 10 years. Still, even then, I knew something was missing and that’s when I discovered Margie Lawson’s lecture notes….
MaryAnn Diorio says
I enjoyed reading your post about writing degrees and concur with you that whether or not to pursue a degree in writing depends on one’s goals.
I currently am in a unique program pursuing the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. To my knowledge, this is the only program of its kind in that it focuses on the writing of commercial genre fiction.
There is a short residency held twice a year. Unlike most other writing degree programs, this one provides training not only in the writing of popular fiction but also in the marketing of it. Well-known novelists, agents, and publishers are invited to campus during residencies, and students are given the opportunity to pitch their work.
During the program, students are required to write a novel as their master’s thesis. We also have the benefit of one-on-one mentoring with a published novelist/instructor.
One of the features I like most about the program is that it is not theoretical but hands-on and based in the realities of the current publishing industry. Instructors are closely involved with the publishing industry and bring their expertise to the classroom.
As you said, no education is wasted. The two doctorates I’ve earned, the Ph.D. in French and Comparative Literature and the D.Min. in Christian Counseling, have served me well not only in writing fiction but also in daily life.
Davalynn Spencer says
Coming from an educational background (BA education, MFA Creative Writing) I agree with Randy that a degree, any degree, is never a waste. Education is about learning how to learn, and those skills cross over into other areas of life. An associate degree or BA is not going to cost you what a Masters will, so I would encourage you to go for them in a field that you are passionate about. I acquired my MFA for three reasons: so I would be qualified to teach at a college level; to finish my middle-grade novel; and to bump myself over on the pay scale where I was teaching at the time. I learned quite a bit from my MFA instructors, however, I have learned more from conferences, workshops and writers’ blogs – particularly this one – than I did from the MFA program. I
Jessica Thomas says
I’d like to pursue an MFA in creative writing some day simply because I’d like to possibly teach creative writing at a university some day. That’s really the main reason. I think I can improve my craft without it.
Mary Potter says
I agree with Randy — no degree is a waste of time and money. However, depending on where you are in your life, it can be a tremendous financial and time commitment.
To improve your novel writing skills, I highly recommend attending writing conferences, taking a fiction writing course at the nearest community college, researching local and national writing organizations, reading magazines and blogs related to writing, checking out books from the library about writing fiction, researching workshops and presentations by authors like Randy, etc.
If you want the degree — go for it. But be aware that there are other avenues to acquire the information you seek to write your best novel.
Tami Meyers says
I went to college a number of years ago with Business Administration as my major. Twelve years later my husband and I started a business and I found that not one of the things they taught me in class ever helped us start or run the business successfully for 18 years.
Now I’ve begun writing and find that the typing class (yes, on actual typewriters) I took has been most helpful. I guess you’re right, Randy, there’s not such thing as a useless degree…
Andrew Pike says
Tami: Is your last statement meant to be sarcastic?
Indeed, I found that a typing class I did in college was by far the best thing I’ve ever done from a writer’s perspective. Ironically they don’t have typing classes required in the BA programs at the university I went to.
Obinna Ozoigbo says
Charles Dickens, England’s most popular author (I don’t know if J. K. Rowling now is), never had a degree in Creative Writing, or so I guess. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is still No.1 in the list of single-volume books that have sold over a million copies worldwide.
Randy, on the other hand, does not have the degree, either. So, I do not think it’s necessary. But if you have both time and money for it, why not? Personally, as a writer, I desire it. One can never tell. For example, Randy has explained to us how his educational background (which, of course, comprises both his pre-doctoral and post-doctoral experiences) has proven helpful in his writing career, instead of a creative-writing degree.
But I repeat: I would like to earn one, nevertheless. You never know how and when it will come in handy.
Obinna Ozoigbo says
Sorry, not “. . . over a million copies . . .”
It is “. . . over a hundred million copies . . .”
James Thayer says
Writers might consider taking a certificate course, such as the one offered in popular fiction writing at the University of Washington extension school. Many university extension schools have such courses. The UW course involves three quarters, with about 95 hours of class time, and costs about $2,000. In addition to learning about the craft and meeting like-minded people, there’s another benefit, and that’s when trying to get an agent. In the resume sentence or paragraph of your query letter, you would mention that you have earned a certificate in a one-year creative writing class. This tells the agent you are serious about writing, and it might be enough to have him ask to see your manuscript. Anything that makes a writer stand out from the 30 or 40 other queries most agents receive each day is worthwhile.
I don’t think a degree in creative writing is necessary although I’m sure it will help your writing. I think the most important thing is practice and review. That’s why collaborative writing is so important. The internet is a great place to write collaboratively with others and you can join in easily at Write in the Clouds
200-355 braindumps says
Getting a degree in writing can give you the time and permission you need to focus on your writing. Plus a great mentor is invaluable.