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.
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